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Calking Reads 2 


lli^l) Seas JIdVentUrc: Ocean Crossings in Search of the Rcvolulionary TItlanlic. .4' 

feature by Ramor Ryan 

Starring lUr, Green, in the Laundry Room, with the Knife 13 

tale of toil by dontchuvt'annaknow 

Crauma Can^o 16 ^^ 

tale of toil by Tom Messmer 

Gverj^daj^ tferror 19 ,, 

analysis by Adam Cornford "^ v' " 

B Strike Bj; Mf Other Rarac 24 "7^ 

report by Natasha Moss-Dedrick 

Poctrj) 31 -/' 

Raven, klipschutz, William Talcott, Summer Brenner ^ 

On the Bleeding Gd^e 34 

tale of toil by Primitive Morales 

Cecbno Pranks 39 

feature by Jesse Drew 

n OiorM of Possibilities at 45 ttlesi Point 44 , 

report by JIames Tracy 

Jucked by the Dildo Shop 48 

tale of toil by Zoe Noe 

no nonsense 54 

fiction by p.m. 

Still ttPorkin^ 64 ,\ 

reviews by McDo and Cfiris Carlsson j 

Burning IDan: n aiorkin^-Class, DIV Oiorld's S^air 6S ¥" 

feature by Chris Carlsson 

Reclaim the Commonsl 79 

rant by Ztan«^i Press 

CONTRIBUTORS: Primitive Morales, "donchu-wannaknow", Natasha Moss-Dedrick, JIames Tracy, 

Jlesse Drew, Chris Carlsson, Hiig-h D'Andrdde, McDo, Ramor Ryan, Eddie Yuen, Tom Messmer, 
p.m., Marina Laxzara, Zoe Noe, Adam Cornford, JIRS, kUpschutz, Danny G, Suzanne Z, Trixie Taser, 
Mari Tepper, Doug^ Minkler, Me<l-o, D.S. HJlack, Victor Veysey, Raven,; Ztang-i 
Press, William llalcott. Summer Brenner, and apologies to anyone we inadvertently left out 

Labor donated by members of Media Workers Union Local loo (& friends) in San Francisco. 
Processed World is a project of counterPULSE, a California non-profit corporation. 
Our mailings address is: Processed World, 1310 Mission St, San Fra 
Ch«ck our ■web site at wvvAv.processcdworld.coni 


we were back (again) was in 2001, September 
to be precise, with our 20th anniversary special 
issue. Maybe you saw it, but probably not. It got a 
little lost in the hubbub of "everything changing". . . 

go figure. 

We always called this introductory column "Talking 
Heads," following the 1970s band and our own proclivity to 
stand around hawking magazines in San Francisco's financial 
district wearing papier mache terminal heads, a habit we gave 
up more than fifteen years ago. But the incessant chatter of 
the anti-journalistic talking heads of U.S. media have come to 
saturate our environment in ways we could have never imag- 
ined when we started publishing 
back in 1981. 

A few of us longtime PWers 
have joined with some newcomers 
to start publishing regularly again. 
We are planning to appear annu- 
ally for now, given the painful real- 
ities of publishing costs, 
distribution headaches, rent, etc. It 
is a hostile environment for small, 
subversive projects, especially pub- 
lishing ones. 

Nevertheless, in spite of the 
heartening appearance of other 
journals we greet fraternally {The 
Baffler, UP, Other, Mute, The Sarai 
Reader, to name but a few), Processed World still has a unique 
role to play. This issue began with a call to describe "what the 
hell is going on out there?" and then morphed into an exam- 
ination of life in a dying empire ("USSA"). As often happened 
in the past, neither suggested theme captured what finally 
appeared. Actually, no theme really unites the contents of this 
issue beyond our consistent interest in the condition of work- 
ing and living. 

As we go to press we are surrounded by the quadrennial 
madness that passes for politics in the U.S., the presidential 
election. This time around we get to choose between a 
wooden caricature of conservative corporatism and the pal- 
pable madness of a mental midget Christian zealot bent on 
maintaining a "Mcfriendly" global empire based on bombs 
and oil. Many will sit it out in disgust while others will hold 
their nose to repudiate the latter. In either case, the basic tra- 
jectory of global pillage, meteorological catastrophes, and ris- 
ing barbarism seems tragically safe from derailment. 

One of our pals recently commented, "sure the world is 
falling apart, but not fast enough to avoid being boring." 
Perhaps tedious is a better way to characterize the larger 
dynamics we are forced to watch in slow motion, but mean- 
while, in our daily lives there is still much to note. 

Ramor Ryan takes us inside a banana boat in "High Seas 
Adventure." The globe-straddling delivery systems on which 
our tenuous standards of living hang are themselves caught 
up in curious contradictions of exploitation, migration, 
desire, and coexistence. Sandwiched between an old-style 
German captain and a largely Filipino crew, he accompanies a 
boatload of bananas from sleepy, exotic Caribbean islands to 
the gaping maw of European consumerism at the port of 
Rotterdam. Along the way he searches the seas longingly for 
pirates, only to be stuck in the oblivious tedium of a hum- 
drum shipment of tropical fruit to 
the gray Old World. 

Ramor's is certainly a tale, but 
we have several more in this issue 
too. In "Trauma Tango," Tom 
Messmer, who works the 
Emergency Room at San 
Francisco General Hospital, dis- 
sects the horrifying consequences 
of our dysfunctional medical sys- 
tem with surgical precision. 
"Starring Mr. Green, in the laun- 
dry room, with the knife" is our 
first second-generation contribu- 
tion to Processed World. Our 
unnamed contributor gives us an 
insider's view of who is deciding our fate and how they go 
about it when we submit ourselves to the California 
Workman's Compensation system. If you are "lucky" enough 
to get hurt on the job, depending on the attitude of the under- 
paid clerk at the other end of the process, you may be able to 
extend your time away from work or you may find yourself 
being followed by rent-a-cops trying to prove you're commit- 
ting fraud. But the fraudulent structure of work that system- 
atically injures most workers, mentally or physically, and then 
denies adequate time to heal is what she really reveals. On a 
lighter note, long-time contributor Zoe Noe updates us on his 
never-ending saga of lost jobs with "Fucked by the Dildo 
Shop," a tale of toil that painfully illustrates the hypocrisy of 
workers' self-management in a feminist sex toy emporium. 

Since the early 1980s Processed World has focused on the 
condition of white-collar wage-slaves, a category that has 
recently come to be called the "Cognitariat." Similarly, the 
magazine has always paid special attention to the observable 


fact that most of us are temporary workers, whether our jobs 
are so designated or not. This latter truth has recently set in 
across Europe where a more sophisticated political milieu has 
dubbed the workers newly made insecure as the "Precariat." 
This issue features two articles that take different looks at our 
precarious, temporary existence. First Primitive Morales 
returns with an examination of his "good job" as a highly 
skilled, relatively well-paid programmer in "On The Bleeding 
Edge." He tries to unpack the curious conundrum facing 
thousands of workers across the planet. They are engaged in 
profoundly collaborative work processes and yet are part of 
an extremely atomized and fragmented workforce which has 
no conceptual sense of solidarity nor jargon-free language to 
describe it, let alone a practice of mutual aid. He describes 
some specific ways he has run aground in his workplace try- 
ing to address this predicament. 

Taking a more broad look at the general insecurity that the 
new precariousness has imposed on the working class in 
America, Adam Cornford details the many facets of anxiety 
imposed in "Everyday Terror: The Insecurity State." The noisy 
reinforcement of fear and loathing by the powers-that-be are the 
tip of a systematic iceberg of isolation, leaving many easily 
manipulated by fear-mongering campaigns and less likely to 
seek the solidarity that is the natural and powerful antidote. 

Of course there is still opposition, and the plans of cor- 
porations and governments do not go forward uncontested. 
Though strikes and worker resistance are at historic lows, 
there are still the remnants of the once revered Union 
Movement. In "A Strike By Any Other Name" Natasha Moss- 
Dedrick shows how the United Food and Commercial 
Workers Union was as much to blame for the disastrous 
defeat in the 2003 southern California grocery workers strike 
as the powerful grocery chains like Safeway they were up 
against. The UFCW's well-documented role in de-unionizing 
most meatpacking in the Midwest during the 1980s (covered 

in Barbara Kopple's documentary "American Dream," 
reviewed in Processed World #30) helps to contextualize their 
otherwise puzzling behavior during this recent strike. 

Recent actions contesting corporate globalization have 
"reclaimed the Commons" as a viable concept denoting our 
shared dependence on water, air and land, and as a way of 
extending a claim to a new sense of Commons encompassing 
shelter, food, and more. Ztangi thinks the feudalistic category 
of the Commons needs some critical analysis and provides it 
in "Reclaim the Commons?" Resistance these days often takes 
the form of "Technopranks," as Jesse Drew outlines in his 
piece of the same name. Homeless families and their support- 
ers successfully contest the San Francisco Housing Authority 
in "A World of Possibilities at 45 West Point," showing that 
those with the least are sometimes the best at challenging the 
limits of political action. 

We welcome back to these pages p.m. with his short story 
"No Nonsense," a piece that challenges all of us to think 
through our vision of the world we're fighting for. And in 
"Burning Man: A Working-Class DIY World's Fair" Chris 
Carlsson recasts the famously hedonistic art festival in the 
surprising terms of working class recomposition. 

We have book reviews to round out the issue, along with 
returning poets klipschutz. Raven, William Talcott, and 
Summer Brenner, plus our usual collection of art, photogra- 
phy and satirical images. 

We will be moving to a new home in San Francisco next 
year and look forward to new projects in coming years. You are 
invited to participate and contribute. It's time for a new gener- 
ation to take Processed Worhfs subversive current to places we 
cannot anticipate. Please get in touch! 



415.626.2060 / 


848 has been a popular, alternative gathering space in San Francisco for free-thinkers, free spirits, and cultural innovators over 
the last thirteen years. Processed World has had a fraternal connection through our shared nonprofit sponsor, CounterPULSE, 
and will soon move into a shared space. Here is how 848 has described itself: "848 is a community-access, do-it-yourself space 
available to artists, activists, community-builders for rehearsals, meetings, performances, rituals, art exhibits, and educational 
events. We have done and will continue to do almost anything! No one v/ill be turned away for lack of money at any event held at 
848. This means if you can 't afford to fully pay or at all you will be admitted without shame, guilt, or the usual trappings of class 
unconsciousness. " 

From the first event held in 1991, 848 promoted a "no one turned away" policy. The honor system of "pay what you can" engen- 
ders a lively and inclusive gathering space. The NOTA policy does not result in reducing income. Instead, it catalyzes more flow 
into the space from people who might otherwise feel they can't afford to attend. Simultaneously, those with higher incomes seem 
more inclined to give more beyond the low end of the sliding scale. 

Creative adaptations of the NOTA policy first appeared in the 848 calendar of events in September, 1992 when jazz musician Tony 
Grasso replaced "no one turned away" with "no one turned into stone." This stimulated a chain reaction re-framing NOTA line in 
relation to the event. Processed World is running these variations in tiny sideways type along the sides of pages scattered 
throughout this issue. An example is running alongside this page; others are on dozens of pages in this issue. 





Ramor Ryan 

heart. Not the seaman's hfe as such, but the seafaring environment, the regimen on board the banana 
boats, the slave-hke labor at the ports, and the immorahty of the global banana trade that is pure naked 

exploitation, a pillaging of the South. My daytime activities 
painting or chipping rust and nighttime shift on watch are 
populated by fantastical notions of violent mutiny, hoisting 
the black flag, and setting sail with my fellow newly initiated 
pirate crew. 

Such musings fall on absolutely uninterested ears. As we 
share a few beers in his cabin, I ask one of the Filipino deck 
hands, the most disgruntled of the lot, why, if life on the ship 
was so fucking miserable, didn't the crew organize to change 
things. "You know," I suggested 
jokingly, "like an old-school 

Manuel, in his early twenties 
like me, laughed so hard that 
beer foam came out his nostrils. 
"Why would any of us think such 
a thing!? In 254 days I will be fin- ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ 
ished all this hell and I will return to Manila, buy my land, and 
farm with my wife and children. For us Filipinos this is the best 
job possible. Two years' labor at sea and then we are set up 
almost for life. There are many who would do anything for this 
job." He changes the subject, pressing a photo of a young 
woman into my hand. "She's pretty, isn't she? That's my sister. 
You could marry her, take her with you to Europe. She's a good 
cook, tidy." 

I'm not making any progress here at all, so I take my leave. 


We've been making the rounds of the Caribbean, picking up 
bananas at various ports. 

Pleading toward the Dominican Republic, our ship, the 
MV Suriname, a four- thousand-ton reefer vessel flying under 
a Panamanian flag, cuts through the breezy tropical sea at a 
steady eighteen knots. 

Despite the infuriating working life on board this floating 
gulag, there is still an indescribable joy in walking the deck as 
we sail the gorgeous Caribbean Sea on flawless sunny days like 

As the sun sets resplendently on the immense horizon, we 
pull into the small port of Manzanilla. "Flalf astern! Slow 

These ''pirate Utopias" were rebellious 

settlements premised on radical 

democracy and multiracial equality, 

oases of freedom in an increasingly 

brutal "civilized" world. 

astern!" shouts the captain as the huge ship careens danger- 
ously toward the short, antiquated pier. "Dead slow!" Despite 
the choppy sea and the difficult undercurrents, we berth gently. 
The mooring lines are secured to the rusty bollards and we are 
docked once more. Hundreds of thousands of freshly harvested 
green bananas are to come aboard and be put in the cavernous 
refrigerated hold, a job that will take a fuU 24 hours to com- 
plete. Most of the crew stream ashore, preparing for a night of 
drunkenness and revelry. I still have my 4AM-to-8AM night 
watch, though, even when 
moored, so I am spared the 
worst excesses of the night's 
revelries. From the quiet bridge 
I watch the longshoremen load 
the boxes by hand from the old 
banana freight train into our 
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^" dark, mysterious bowels. It's 
tiresome work, this endless loading, and if perchance any of the 
workers get lazy, there are armed guards posted to watch over 

"What's with the guns?" I ask the second mate, who, more 
out of habit than need, continually checks the radar and the 
satellite navigator despite us being at port. "There was a 
docker strike here last month. They fired the leaders and are 
now making sure that the rest don't get any stupid ideas." 

The captain comes on the bridge at dawn. "Zer good!" he 
says, referring to the hired guns. "Finally some security meas- 
ures!" For him, the problem was the pilfering by the long- 
shoremen or the hustling of stowaways on board. More guns 
was good news. 

And it's the same at each port we dock at: in Puerto Cortes, 
Honduras; Puerto Cabezas, Guatemala; Independence, Belize; 
in Georgetown, Guyana; or Parimaribo, Suriname, the same 
regime of guns and suspicion, waterfronts filled with resent- 
ment and fear. The longshoremen are badly paid, their work 
haphazard, and when the big ships come in, the shifts last all 
day and night. As the disgruntled workers load the hold 
through the night, you get the feeling they would like to load 
themselves on, too. A melancholic mood dominates the rigor- 
ous work, all in the shadow of armed guards. 


A few of the ship's crew almost didn't make it back in 
time. They came scrambhng up the gangway with five min- 
utes to spare and were clearly the worse for wear. The night- 
clubs and brothels of this little port town have taken on a 
mythical status in the eyes of some of the sailors. I hear the 
captain command the chief mate to punish the latecomers. 
"Chipping rust with the lawnmower for three days," he says 
sternly. That means being dispatched to the nether regions of 
the vessel to dislodge rust with a heavy, lumbering, noisy 
machine called a deck scaler. Ten minutes pounding with that 
thing and you are ready to jump down the hawse pipe for 
good. A maritime nightmare. 

The great engines hidden deep inside the belly of the ves- 
sel rumble to life, the hefty mooring lines are taken off the 
bollards and gathered on board, men scurry around franti- 
cally on the dilapidated pier, and we 
are off, setting sail once more across 
the Atlantic Ocean. 

Into the Deep Blue Sea 

It is almost dusk, and the sun is setting 
dramatically on the lush banana plan- 
tations surrounding the docks. From 
high up on the ship's bridge deck I can 
see far and wide. The tropical vegeta- 
tion shimmers in a thousand shades of 
green, its pungent aroma mixing deli- 
ciously with the powerful fragrance of 
the fresh Caribbean Sea. The old rustic 
railway line runs out of the plantation 
and all the way up the pier. The decrepit 
train stands there almost derelict, its 
wagons bereft of their cargo. Dozens of 
workers stand around, exhausted after 
their grueling shift, relieved to see the 
bananas off. I spot the unctuous local 
banana agent, the only man in 
Manzanilla who wears a suit, waving us 
off overenthusiastically. Young couples 
gather to watch the huge ship slide out 
to sea — not much happens in these 
small port towns. Parents have brought 
their children, who wave sadly at our 
departure. Everyone is silent, dreaming 
of other lands, of migration, exodus, or 

The great hulking ship turns 180 
degrees in a wide lumbering arc. Now 
the bow faces the vast infinite ocean, 
and the quaint little Caribbean port 
town is left behind, becoming smaller 
and smaller as the horizon encloses it. 
The sea ahead is perfectly calm, a rav- 

ishing sapphire blue, sparkling and inviting, and dolphins have 
appeared, leaping joyously about the hull. We have two weeks 
of open sea before us, as we sail ft-om the mesmerizing translu- 
cent beauty of the Caribbean to the choppy grey European 
north Atlantic. We also have two weeks of monotonous factory 
work ahead of us, painting and chipping rust, doing watch, 
cleaning, and gazing out to sea, haunted and melancholic. 

We are 18 men of diverse nationalities trapped within the 
steel confines of this floating prison, encumbered with an 
archaic maritime hierarchy, teeming with resentments and 
the petty everyday hassles of living in close quarters with a 
group of people not of your choosing. We may have rough 
weather, or engine difficulties, people will fall ill, and others 
will become overwrought by homesickness or lovesickness, a 
year away from their families and homes. The sailors will cling 

^\5H^^^D l/MBKGUt^' 



to the fond memories of a couple of days onshore, the bustle 
of the port, the good people of Manzanilla, the late-night beer 
and revelry, and, for some, the delirious dawn shared with the 
industrious women of the Caribbean night. 

"Yah, Irishman, move your fucking ass, do some work." 
This from the great German wit — unfortunately, our captain. 
He is a big man with great ruddy cheeks and a thick beard. He 
has been a sailor all his adult life and is, as they say in the 
trade, confident of the sea. Typical of his class of European 
officer, his political persuasion lies somewhere to the far right 
of Le Pen. The captain, the chief engineer, the first mate, and 
perhaps the second engineer on any cargo ship of this line will 
be European — German, Dutch, or English — while the crew is 
generally from the global south — Filipino, Chinese, or 
Indonesian. The mid-ranking class will be Indian, Pakistani, 
or maybe unambitious hands of European nationalities. 

I had the misfortune of spending a lot of time around the 
officer class on a variety of banana boats. Most of these guys 
had been at sea twenty years or so; they are frightening speci- 
mens of stunted humanity. "It would be better if I could flog 
them," remarked a Dutch captain, referring to the recalcitrant 
crew. An English captain insisted on referring to the Irish, 
Indian, and Pakistani crewmembers as "Us Brits." (Strangely, 
the Indian bosun. Raj, loved this; he even hung a portrait of 
Queen Elizabeth in the radio room to appease the captain). But 
this current captain, the bulbous German, was easily the most 
obnoxious of them all. "One time we sailed from Madagascar," 
he boasted while knocking back a brandy, "with ten stow- 
aways in the hold. I ordered all the hatches locked shut and 
turned up the refrigeration. Those blacks froze to death!" His 
fellow officers chuckled in obedient chorus. It was unclear 
whether this was his idea of humor or multiple homicide. 

These merchant vessels seem at times like theatres for 
simmering class war — class and race war. The European offi- 
cer class, who all joined the merchant navy when these ship- 
ping lines were entirely white and European, resented the 
Asian employees because they were cheap labor: the 
maquiladorization of the fleets. The Asians in turn hated the 
Europeans because they were racist and unjust bosses. 
Language came between the two classes — how can an English 
captain order around a Chinese crew, demean them, whip 
them in line, and teach them obedience and the traditions of 
the sea if they can't understand one word he says? There was 
no common ground between the two. 

Sailing with a Chinese crew one time, I tried to befriend 
them in the spirit of worker solidarity. I entered their dining 
quarters, bedecked with red flags and a portrait of Chairman 
Mao, and attempted to bridge the gap between English and 
Mandarin. My efforts came to zero. They suspected a spy, an 
infiltrator who would only harm them in the end. They 
wanted nothing to do with me. I was white, so I was ejected, 
quite politely. 

The Filipinos were different. They were more westernized. 

Many were born-again fundamentalist Christians, Bible- 
thumping sailors. This didn't stop them from filling the bore- 
dom of off-duty hours with some hardcore lesbian porn 
movie. Others tried to set me up with their sister, proffering 
photos of pretty young girls and claiming they would do 
whatever I desired — if I married them. It was a liability being 
white below deck. I worked alongside them all day, chipping 
rust or painting, we shared surreptitious beers in their cabins 
(drinking was outlawed on the ship), we discussed the Bible, 
we shared watch, and yet they always considered me other. 
Maybe because I was invited to eat at the officers' table. 

The European officers took me under their wing as a cadet, 
as a young man who obviously needed guidance. Also, I was 
white. I was invited to dine with them, always a traumatic occa- 
sion. These old fascist codgers would try to plant the old salty 
sea dog number on me, as if they were wise old men who knew 
the ropes. As sailors, as workingmen, they did — they knew the 
boat, they knew the sea, they knew how it all worked, and they 
got the goods there on time. This was understood, and this was 
why they were paid a fair wage for a job well done. 

The problem arose when we ventured beyond the old 
salty sea dog paradigm. We sat around a table three times a 
day for two weeks at a time, and if any other subject arose — 
politics, culture, sports — we had stormy waters. If it wasn't 
their desire for more immigration laws, it was their admira- 
tion of Margaret Thatcher; if it wasn't their desire to see all 
Arabs wiped off the face of the earth, it was their support for 
the loyalist Rangers football club, and me a Celtic supporter. 
Even though they were Europeans, white men like me, I felt 
extraordinarily ill at ease in their company. To complicate 
things further, I was a "man of letters," an intellectual in their 
eyes (I read books). They hated intellectuals, the liberal 
media, people of color, and, most of all, feminists. They were 
angry and cynical men filled with hubris. 


One night I got drunk in the lavish cabins of the German 
chief engineer. At 60, he was older than most of the other offi- 
cers I had encountered, and a certain weariness informed his 
discourse, which made him more tolerable than the more 
arrogant types. As the night wore on, and his more outlandish 
fascist statements were tempered by sentimentality and 
melancholy, he became maudlin and honed in on one over- 
whelming theme. "I want to be free!" he said. "I want to be free 
from this shitty ship and this shitty job, and the fucking 
engine room and this shipping company. I want to be free of 
my boring wife and my damned family and my suburban 
home; I want to be free to take off around the world and just 
to be free. I want to be free!" The tiresome old bore went on 
like this for a long time, and finally we had found some com- 
mon ground. Not much, just a desire for freedom, to roam, to 
be unrestricted. We clinked our glasses in grim complicity. 

The Dawn Watch 

Afterwards I went up to the bridge for my 4AM-to-8AM 
watch. The kindly Filipino second mate intimated that I 
should drink lots of coffee to sober up. I explained to him 
what happened, how I ended up drinking all night with the 
chief engineer. I told him how I found the chief engineer, in 
the end, a decent enough man, even if he was a bit of a nazi. 
The second mate smiled and uncharacteristically revealed a 
gem of gossip. "They say he has fallen in with a Brazilian 
mulatto in Suriname. He wants to marry her and live on the 
coast of Bahia with her. He is a new man now, repenting his 
dark past, his bad treatment of the Filipinos. The crew has 
grown fond of him." 

The second mate, a soft-spoken grey-haired man in his 50s, 

abruptly returned to business, as if he had let down his guard 
by speaking so openly with me. He turned to the radar, wrote 
briefly in the logbook, and then retired to the chartroom. 

I was left alone on the bridge in the darkness, the ship 
plunging through the deep night and the coffee percolating 
on the desk. The ship was rolling gently as we steamed full- 
ahead at a steady 20 knots and not a blip on the radar. 

The 4AM-to-8AM watch shift is the romantic shift — you 
get to watch dawn rising across the vast horizon, and it is a 
magnificent vista, changing subtly every morning as we tra- 
verse the Caribbean to the Atlantic or vice versa. Every hour 
we would note our position and the sailing conditions in the 
logbook — and I would attempt to induce the second mate 
into conversation. But he was a wary man, and I got the feel- 
ing he didn't feel he had much to say about himself. He was at 
sea eight years and did not express any great love for the 
sailor's life, although he considered himself privileged to have 
a well-paid job. His sole wish was to return to the Philippines, 
his family, the plot of land he had managed to buy, and farm 
away the rest of his life. I got the distinct feeling that the 
sailor's life for him was one step up from a chain gang. 
Strangely, I never did get his name the whole voyage; every- 
body simply referred to him as "the second mate." On the 
door to my cabin was the title "Spare Officer." Did they refer 
to me colloquially on board as "the spare officer"?! 

How calm was the bridge in the depth of night! I would 
check the various instruments and stare into the darkness, 
peering for whatever obstacle might lie in our path — fishing 
boats, meandering whales, or North Atlantic wanderlust- 
stricken icebergs. I never saw anything. I would listen to the 
BBC World Service, sip coffee, and, rocked by the gentle pitch 
and the somnolent ocean air, fall into a calm reverie thinking 
about my favorite maritime topic — pirates. 

Passing a Pirate Enclave 

"During the Golden Age of piracy in the 17th and 18th cen- 
turies, crews of early proletarian rebels, dropouts from civ- 
ilization, plundered the lucrative shipping lanes between 
Europe and America. They operated from land enclaves, 
free ports; "pirate Utopias," located on islands and coastlines 
as yet beyond the reach of civilization. From these mini- 
anarchies — "temporary autonomous zones" — they 
launched raiding parties so successful that they created an 
imperial crisis, attacking English trade with the colonies, 
and crippling the emerging system of global exploitation, 
slavery and colonialism...." 

Pirate Utopias, Do or Die, No. 14 

The Caribbean teems with the ghosts of the pirate world, and 
the pirate Utopias once dotted around the region remain part of 
the cherished folklore. There is still a tangible sense of piracy in 
the air, provoked by the great extremes of wealth and poverty 
starkly coexisting in the Caribbean. Haiti, the poorest country 
in the western hemisphere, is a short boat ride from the Virgin 


Islands, playground of the rich and famous. And it was here 
that I got my first taste of the "threat" of latter-day pirates. 

We had been delayed loading bananas at the Honduran 
port of Puerto Cortes, and the captain was acting edgy all 
morning. His task now was to make up time on the crossing. 
He could cut through the infamous Tortuga Channel, a nar- 
row slipstream between the Haitian coast and the small island 
of Tortuga. The danger was that the channel was less than a 
kilometer wide and populated by a lively band of latter-day 
pirates in rubber dinghies equipped with powerful outboard 
engines and AK-47s. They would speed out in groups and 
seize a passing ship by throwing ropes up over the side and 
clambering aboard. The size of the ship makes it difficult to 
guard the whole length of the vessel; pirates can climb aboard, 
break into the metal containers, and steal anything that can be 
dropped into the rubber dinghies below. Or they can simply 
hold the crew at gunpoint and do exactly as they please. 

After much contemplation, the captain decides to go the 
Tortuga Channel route. "We'll save four hours," he says to the 
first mate. "It must be done." 

The crew, some armed with handguns, is dispersed along 
both sides of the deck to ward off the potential robbers. We 
enter the narrow channel. Small settlements are visible on 
both coastlines — multitudes of little huts with not a large 
building in sight. The channel is a few kilometers long. 
Dozens of little boats crisscross it — battered old fishing boats, 
rustic ferries packed with people, and the "suspicious" little 
inflatable dinghies. The captain could go full speed, ensuring 
that we pass too quickly for any pirate to catch up, but also 
creating havoc for the locals due to the violent wake of the 
passing ship. Little boats might overturn, or we might simply 
run over slow vessels. Basically, by going a reckless 20 knots, 
we would be crashing through, causing untold damage — 
drownings even — just to stave off the pirates. The captain, a 
real bastard, is tempted. 

He discusses the dilemma with his German buddy, the 
chief engineer. I don't understand German, but it is clear that 
the chief engineer is talking the captain down from his reck- 
less path. Almost begrudgingly, the captain orders a reduction 
in speed. 

By this stage I am positively pissing myself with excite- 
ment. I would present any potential pirates clambering 
aboard with my assistance. This is the historical Tortuga, one 
of the earliest pirate republics! This little island off Hispaniola 
was once the scourge of the Caribbean. C.L.R. James writes in 
The Black Jacobins, "In 1629 some wandering Frenchmen set- 
tled. ... To Tortuga came fugitives from justice, escaped galley 
slaves, debtors unable to pay debts, adventurers, men of all 
crimes and nationalities. Slaughter, internecine [warfare] fol- 
lowed for 30 years. ..." James, no friend of the pirates and buc- 
caneers, saw them as dropouts and criminals. Other historians 
frame the Caribbean pirate enclaves in more favorable and 




revolutionary terms: these "pirate Utopias" were rebellious 
settlements premised on radical democracy and multiracial 
equality, oases of freedom in an increasingly brutal "civilized" 
world founded upon slavery and exploitation of the "New 
World." While a good portion of the pirate community was 
comprised of mutinous sailors from the merchant privateers 
or the imperial navies, many others were "a melting pot of 
rebellious and pauperized immigrants from across the 
world — thousands of deported Irish..., Royalist prisoners 
from Scotland, Huguenots, outlawed religious dissenters..., 
captured prisoners of various uprisings, Diggers and Ranters, 
runaway slaves and rebellious proles...." {Do or Die). The 
original buccaneers got their name from boucan, the practice 
of the Arawak Indians of smoking beef The Atlantic rebels 
"went native" and made common cause with the indigenous 
groups. The self-organization of these pirate communities, 
not just in Tortuga, but in Honduras, the Bay of Campeche, 
and all over the Caribbean, represented a genuine alternative 
society in the 17th century. These were the autonomous 
municipalities of their day. 

Disappointingly, we pass through the Tortuga Channel 
without even so much as a hint of a Jolly Roger gracing the 
horizon. The captain chuckles coarsely as we pull out once 
more into the open sea. "Yah, fticking assholes too busy screw- 
ing their mothers to take us on, ha-ha!" This captain is a real 
comedian; he has us in stitches all day. He's forever shouting at 
the Filipino crew, "Stop staring at your shoes like Imelda 
Marcos, get to work, ha-ha!" The workers shuffle away without 
a word. I wasn't expecting a motley crew of latter-day rebel 
sailors, but neither was I expecting such a browbeaten obedient 
lot. What of the secret history of the revolutionary Atlantic, the 


treasured tradition of mutiny and raising the black flag? 

The romantic maritime, it seems, is dead and gone; it's 
with Anne Bonny in the grave. 

Troubled Waters 

Next afternoon, the sea was calm as I painted the starboard 
boat deck with a long roller. My peaceful daydreaming was 
disturbed by the chief steward summoning me before the cap- 
tain. Of all the Filipinos, this guy, a Jehovah's Witness, was the 
most dangerous. The other Filipinos distrusted him, and I 
had already had a bit of a run-in with him. He's a big fan of 
U.S. military bases in the Philippines. His ambition is to open 
a McDonalds franchise in his home town, Malabang on 
Mindanao. I earned his displeasure by laughing as he waxed 
lyrical on the wholesomeness of the McDonalds menu. 

The captain is seated behind his desk in his office with 
impressive nautical charts rolled out in front of him. He is 
grunting to himself somewhat boorishly. Over his shoulder 
hovers the twitching chief steward, and through the portholes 
I can see the cargo stacked on the expansive deck tilting gently 
with the pitch of the ship. 

I may be in trouble. 

"Are you writing some kind of investigation about this 
shipping company?" the captain asked directly, fondling his 
beard and looking like the meanest bastard you could possi- 
bly imagine. He continues that the chief steward, "while 
changing the cabin linen," found some written notes I had 
carelessly left on the desk. I glance at the sycophantic steward 
with a burning stare. 

"I like to keep a journal. Captain, but it definitely isn't 
written for the eyes of the chief steward." 

The captain was clearly reveling in the whole situation. 
He could be his very own Gestapo! 

"Ve are concerned that the confidentiality of the shipping 
line has been violated." 

A company man, he went on to outline how I had been 
taken on in good faith by the director, and I was abusing that 
trust by intending to publish an account unhelpful to the 
shipping line. 

"Are you a journalist?" he asked directly, his eyes burning 
into me nastily. 

And this is the thing: I was doing a little research with the 
aim of exposing some trade injustices, but nothing about the 
shipping line or this man's sacred fucking shipping company. 
I was looking into the bananas. My concern was bananas. 

But I had an alibi. "Captain, I'm writing a short eclectic 
piece for the seaman's union magazine about life on board a 
modern vessel, comparing it to the old romantic idea of life at 
sea during the so-called Golden Age of shipping. I am writing 
an article that merely expresses the discontent of the crew, 
their lack of interest in the sailor's life, and how big ships are 
more like floating factories, but nothing damaging to the 
shipping company." 

The captain looked at me crookedly. His eyes narrowed 
and he pulled at his beard. I have drunk with this man, he has 
told me his stories, I have shared his space, and I suspect he 
might actually have a soft spot for me. "You ask a lot of ques- 
tions," he said. "You are a good listener. You are young and 
idealistic. I believe you." He broke into a cunning smile. "I will 
help you with your article, and we will print it in the company 
bulletin, too." 

"That's great," I mumble feebly. I cast a nasty glance at the 
chief steward. Fucking scumbag rat. I will have a word with 
the other Filipinos about this — they don't like him either. 

A Motley Crew 

But they weren't interested. I told my mate Manuel, the young 
disgruntled Filipino deckhand, what had happened, how the 
chief steward had ratted on me to the captain. 

"The steward is a dog," laughed Manuel, "we expect that 
from him." He changed the topic to the nocturnal delights in 
some seedy Manzanilla brothel. Another crew member enters, 
a guy even younger than Manuel, and his line was that the 
chief steward did no wrong. "He was only doing his duty." 


Later that night on watch, the second mate chided me. 
"Don't worry about these things. You should keep your head 
down and do your work." That is what he says about every 
problem. It drives me crazy. Why don't these people stand up 
for themselves? 

I found an excuse to leave and made my way to the very 
bow of the ship, as far from the bridge and the rumbling 
engines as possible, past the lines of freight containers, past 
the stored mooring lines and various accoutrements, down to 
the end of the forward deck. Like a world apart, here at the 
very tip of the ship is a little platform that hangs over the 
water. The hull drops at a sharp angle below, so when you sit 
perilously on the edge, grasping the metal bars, dangling your 
legs, it is as exhilarating as a fairground ride. The ship pitches 
more dramatically at the bow, and the tumultuous sea churns 
about ten meters below. The spray of surf wets your face, and 
the delicious aroma of the salty sea overwhelms the senses. 
Sometimes dolphins chase the ship 
here, leaping delightfully about the 
hull. I'm sure this place has a name — 
everything has a nautical term — but I 
don't know what they call it. For me, 
it was my place of wild solace, alone 
as you can be on a ship, plunging 
through the dark sea in the deep of 

A Valediction to Imperial Hydrarchy 

I'm chipping away at rust with a 
handheld jackhammer on the port- 
side bridge wing. The work is monot- 
onous, and the scraping noise is 
driving me nuts. I've been at this all 
afternoon. I suspect this is part of the captain's punishment 
for my misdemeanors. 

Suddenly the whole horizon becomes filled with a great 
wall of water, hundreds of meters tall, as an extreme storm 
wave sweeps in from the winter north Atlantic. 

The captain's guffaw interrupts my dreamtime flights of 
fancy. "Yah come on Irish scholar, let's see if you can write 
even with all those blisters, ha-ha!" He beckons me into the 
chartroom, where a computer lay idle. "Use this to write your 
fantastic article!" he said, rubbing his hands together merrily, 
maybe expecting some whimpered excuses. "Now!" he added, 
as if cracking a whip. 

But (cunningly) I had thought about this the previous 
night, whiling away the hours on watch, and had prepared a 
potential article to humor the stupid bastard. 

I began banging on the keyboard, pandering to the captain 
by beginning with a quote from an old traditional Irish sailor's 
song The Sea Rover, one of his favorites when maudlin and 

/ am an old sea rover and the blood through my veins, 

Is fresh and salty as the sea.... 

I went on to describe the attributes of the crew of the MV 
Suriname, how they were "confident of the sea," and other 
cliches, but that the romantic age was over, and the salty sea 
did not flow through these people's blood, only the necessity 
to work for a living, a shitty living at that, locked up on a ship 
for months on end. I lament the loss of the albatross as a sym- 
bol of the sailor — a creature who only lands to mate — and 
suggested that a more appropriate symbol for the modern 
worker on board would be a caged parrot. Maybe some of the 
old traditions were gallantly carried forth by the superannu- 
ated licensed officer class (I have in mind the preposterous 
rank system and the tendency to resort to juvenile punish- 
ments for crew "misbehavior," but that remains unstated), but 
theirs is a leviathan task to revive archaic practices. I entitled 
the piece A Valediction to Imperial Hydrarchy. 

The captain looked a mite confused and then chuckled 
approvingly. "Yes you can write! This 
is ok! Mourning the lost traditions, 
yes" And he left me there, not men- 
tioning the remaining rusting to be 
done, so I took the opportunity to 
write about bananas for the rest of 
the afternoon. 

I brought the writing up for the 
second mate to peruse during the 
4AM-to-8AM watch. He read it and 
laughed sardonically. "It is good," he 
said, "but it is naive. There is no mys- 
tery to the sea, it is simply the ocean 
and we are a metal box floating on 
top of it, and it is dangerous, stupid 
even. We are all fools, and we do it 
only because we have to. It is about money, that's all." 

The Inefficiency of Capitalist Globalization 

The captain invited me up to his quarters the foUowing night 
and opened a bottle of Scotch whiskey. "Let me tell you a 
story," he began, "to explain what this business is all about." 

It was like he was dictating his memoirs. It was like he was 
preparing his confession. I fumbled for my pencil, excited. 

But his testimony was disappointing. It was just a 
straightforward story of the madness of globalization. "I was 
captain of a schooner taking cargo from Cork, Ireland — yes, 
your shitty country — to Brazil, another shitty country, and 
back again. We would load a cargo of livestock at Cobh and 
sail across the Atlantic, two weeks. There, in Brazil, the cattle 
would be slaughtered and made into canned meat. That's a 
Brazilian specialty — slaughterhouse skills, you know. I would 
load up the ship again with canned meat, and sail back to 
Ireland. The canned meat was sold in Irish supermarkets." 


"Is that it. Captain?" 




"Yes, hmmm. Quite a story." 

"Yes, appalling isn't it?" 


Uke Falling Off ttie End of the Worid 

Day by day the ocean got darker, and the clear blue sky became 
dotted with clouds. The temperature dropped subtly. We 
found ourselves wearing more layers of clothes each night on 
watch. A basking whale bade us farewell from tropical waters 
with a spectacular fountain of water and a graceful leap, 
crashing dramatically back into the ocean. Right out in the 
middle of the Atlantic, six days from Europe, we pass bobbing 
fishing boats from the Spanish fleet. Fish stocks are so 
depleted that fishermen have to go to extraordinary lengths to 
fill their quota. A day later we pass some discarded oil barrels 
bobbing about in the water — litter all over the world. 

The excitement of heading 
toward the Caribbean and the exotic 
ports on that side of the Atlantic is 
directly proportional to the depres- 
sion induced by heading toward cold, 
wintry north Atlantic waters. 
Rotterdam in winter never has the 
same alluring appeal as, say, tropical 
Paramaribo. Work on the deck is 
made more difficult by the rain and 
the cold and the increasingly choppy 
seas. Sure enough, a couple of days 
from port, just beyond the Azores, the 
ship begins rolling long and deep, ten second rolls, on big 
North Atlantic swells. Sleeping or eating becomes an acrobatic 
chore, a balancing act against the forces of gravity. Traversing 
the passageways becomes a clown act, or the endeavors of a 
punch-drunk hobo in the park. And intermittently, the con- 
tents of your stomach will take a leap. Some people's visages 
take on a startling shade of blue. "Everybody gets sick, don't 
worry," the chief engineer tells me. "I've been getting sick for 
25 years. Here, hold this, you'll feel better." 

He places a potato in my hand. I feel better because I 
laugh for the first time all day. 

The captain has the deckhands out in the winter gale 
painting and rusting, just to spite them. There's plenty of 
indoor work they could be doing, but he's in a rage because he 
got wind of a "party" below deck the previous night. 
"Drinking is prohibited on the boat," he thundered. Except 
for the officers who drink brandy every night in their fine 
staterooms, the fucking hypocrites. 

I bring the toiling workers coffee on the deck, spilling 
most in the process, slipping and sliding on the treacherous 
swaying surface. The six men are fuming to be out in the gale; 
despite oilskins and rubber boots they are soaked through 
and miserable, chipping at the interminable rust. Manuel 

thanks me for the coffee and finally exhibits some of the 
malevolent spirit of a seafaring motley crew. "That fucking 
captain better watch his step or he will have an accident," he 
mutters bitterly. 

The 4AM-to-8AM watch is getting busy. As we approach 
Europe, our radar and the waters are becoming dotted with 
vessels — other cargo ships, fishing boats, coast guards, liners, 
and oil tankers. We are off autopilot and have to change 
course occasionally, as the second mate doesn't trust the nav- 
igation of the small fishing vessels. Nor does he trust the satel- 
lite navigator. Short of grabbing his sextant and shooting the 
stars, he prefers to keep a very close eye on procedures before 
him with his keen eyes. 

"Ships go down every day and every night," he tells me. 
"Somewhere in the world right now a big ship is sinking. We 
hear SOSs all the time on the radio." 

The captain comes in drinking his morning coffee and 
joins the conversation, uninvited. 

"Like that yahoo of a yachtsman 
we found in the middle of the 
Atlantic lying half-dead in his little 
dinghy. We lost a whole afternoon 
rescuing that fool." 

The captain would quite clearly 
have preferred to steam past the dis- 
abled vessel, but maritime etiquette 
requires that passing ships come to 
the rescue of vessels in distress. 

"But the company received good 
press for that. Captain. We lost time, 
but as the company director said, it was good for public rela- 
tions." This from the second mate. 

"We should have left that arsehole in his tub to teach the 
other foolish yachtsmen a lesson. They are all jackass yahoos, 
forever causing problems for the merchant marine!" He 
changes the subject. "What is the weather forecast for today. 
Second Mate?" 

"Bad," replies the second mate warily, "Strong winds, 
rain, the same as yesterday." 

The captain has got up on the wrong side of the bed. "A 
good day for chipping rust on the starboard deck," he murmurs 
nastily, and leaves the bridge. 

Even the second mate is provoked. 
"He should have more respect for the crew," he says adroidy. 
"It's true, but they just take it," I say, "they don't complain." 
"No, they don't complain," says the second mate, peering 
intently out the bridge window. 

We are approaching Rotterdam, and the weather is 
wretched, but we have made good time, twelve days and 21 
hours. We have crossed six time zones, sailed 4,000 kilome- 
ters, used about 30 gallons of oil per kilometer, and got hun- 
dreds of thousands of banana bunches across the vast ocean, 
on time. The second mate calculates that the banana company 



makes a good half-million dollars profit on the bananas. 
"What they pay for a small bunch of bananas off the shelf in 
Holland is about the same as a day's wages for the banana 
worker in Honduras." 

"Second Mate!" I exclaim, shocked that the normally 
demure man would make such an overtly political statement. 
"You should keep your head down, do your work, and not 
consider these things that don't concern you!" I said sarcasti- 
cally, mimicking his own words, his own mantra. 

"Yes, you are quite right," he said, and smiled for the first 
time with an endearing air of complicity. 

It's all over. We have docked in Rotterdam, the icy wind 
whips around the port and we are all wrapped tightly in many 
layers. The bananas are being unloaded with the latest state- 
of-the art cranes; in no time at all the nicely ripened fruit will 
be whisking across Europe in articulated lorries. The port is 
cold, industrious, and sparsely populated. Europe's primary 
port has long been mechanized and the longshoremen down- 
sized. It's like sailing into a cemetery, a place haunted by the 
ghosts of the generations of workers who have vacated the 
place in favor of great hulking machines and zippy conveyor 
belts. The luminous teeming of the Caribbean ports contrasts 
bleakly with this depressing vista. The only continuous ele- 
ment is the presence of armed guards. 

I have to present myself to the captain one final time in 
order to sign off the ship. "Ah! The Irish scholar!" he exclaims 
mockingly, as I enter his cabin. "Don't desert us now! Surely 
there are many more stories to 
write here!" 

And this is the thing about 
this stupid fuck of a captain: 
it's like he can see through you. 
He misses the essential part, 
but he gets most of it. I have a 
begrudging respect for him, his 
seaward ways and his blunt, 
overwhelming presence. 

Nevertheless, he has the capac- 
ity to undermine any goodwill 
I might feel toward him. He 
begins to get all maudlin and 

"We are simple people, we 
sailors. We fight the oceans and 
we deliver the goods. But there 
is something that I want to say 
before you leave this ship that you should never forget." 

This is interesting. There's nothing better than a good 
epiphany at the end of a long voyage. I'm all ears. The captain 
pulls at his beard and stares into space; I think I see the begin- 
ning of tears welling up in his cold eyes. 

"Always remember that there is someone somewhere in 
the world who loves you." 

I looked at him blankly, trying to comprehend his words. 
Was some wisdom hidden in there somewhere? The captain 
had a smug look on his face and held out his meaty paw to 
shake my hand. 

What he said was completely absurd. Why would he 
bring up love now? Was he truly mad? 

Love? This hulking metal monstrosity is possibly the 
most loveless, unhappy place I have ever had the misfortune 
of occupying in my whole life. Love and the MV Suriname is 
an unthinkable notion. Love and the transatlantic shipping 
industry do not go together. Love and bananas? No! 

I shook the meaty paw and smiled at him as one smiles at 
a cop who has handed you back your false ID. 

"Yeah, thanks." 

The Ongoing Search for the Revolutionary Atlantic 

I sauntered off the loveless MV Suriname a happy man, a freed 
man, one who would not walk up this gangway again. I thought 
of the captain and the European officer class and their sad 
superannuated ways and the antiquated maritime class struc- 
ture. I thought about the endless slog of useless labor, the 
unromantic characters that populated the ship, the brow- 
beaten crew, and the absence of resistance. I thought about 
prisons, and spaces without women, and Camus's line: "A place 
without women is a place without air to breathe." 

But the last word was with the motley crew. As we shared 
a final beer approaching Rotterdam, my Filipino mate Manuel 
had told me a real secret of the 
deep sea. "You ask us why we 
don't react to all the shit the 
captain gives us?" said Manuel. 
"I will tell you why we smile 
each time he orders us around. 
We smile because behind that 
bravado we know he is scared." 
Then he told me a story 
that represented either a power- ' 
ful psychological threat against ; 
the captain or a pathetic ration- '• 
alization of the crew's accept- l 
ance of his abuse toward them. ; 
Some time ago, on 
another ship of this line, there 
was an accident. Apparently 
there was a German captain 
like ours, a bad man, who mis- 
treated his crew. And there was a Filipino crew, like this one, 
quiet, minding their own business. Far out in the Atlantic, the 
captain went for a stroll around the forward deck. The night 
was dark, and the waves were pounding the ship. Nobody 
heard his screams, and the body was never found. 





by dontchuwannaknow 

should send out the company spies to see if you are instalHng a new subwoofer in your '67 Impala, or 
if you are on a dolly underneath your boat tightening screws, and then fastening your neck brace as you 
leave for your doctor's appointment. Not to mention that I, in my early 20s, fresh out of college with no 
workers comp experience, no 40-hours-a-week work experi- were quite interesting. Here I was in an office hundreds of miles 

ence even, will make a decision either to let you go to the doc- 
tor you want, or to send you to a doctor I know nothing about 
simply because our company has a contract with a different 
company, which means donuts on Fridays, new pens, calen- 
dars, and magnets. We play detective, doctor, broker, shrink, 
doormat, prescription drug dealer, god, hooky — the list goes 
on. They should never have hired me. 

Did I mention that workers compensation will go down in 
history as the last feeble attempt at playing "Democracy" before 
the dark clouds of Empire smudge out the sun and the earth 
opens up and swallows us whole? Don't have health insurance 
because it costs half your paycheck? Can't afford it because you 
don't have a living wage, you pay $1,000 for a closet in the city, 
and you work twelve hours a day, six days a week? 

Well, all you have to do is go to the unemployment line 
and wait for someone to ask you if you were hurt on the job. 
Say yes, and you will be escorted through the entire web of 
underground workings of workers comp fraud. Doctors who 
make up your ailments on the spot will file a claim with your 
employer and their insurance company. Then the claim will 
fall into the hands of an overworked, inexperienced claims 
adjustor (OICA, in this case me), who will notice your claim 
, only when you start annoying me with doctors' reports that 
say "stay off of work until next visit," and you only have a lac- 
eration on your pinky finger (fancy word for cut). If you're 
lucky the OICA will bury the claim under towering piles of 
paper while you sit on your ass collecting checks. But just 
hope you get an adjustor like me. If you get the wrong one, 
they'll be on you like flies on shit, filming you cheat on your 
wife, noticing that your hernia seems to have healed fine six 
months ago; then off to court you go. By the time your wife 
finds out, prison won't look so bad. 

I soon found out that I was not cut out to be a good 
claims adjustor. I suspected fraud in one case. The claim 
started to irritate me. The claimant kept going back to the 
doctor and staying off work, but the doctor didn't know what 
was wrong with her, nor were they trying to find out. I could- 
n't tell who was behind the curtain calling the shots. 

So I sent the company spies out to video her. The results 

away, looking at close-ups of her setting up picnic tables, pick- 
ing up water coolers, and chasing balloons at her nephew's 

birthday party in the park, while "suffering from major back 
pain." This was all the evidence I needed to report her to the 
fraud department as required by law. Plus, I might get a pro- 
motion, or at least a huge slap on the back from all the corn- 
fed, loud-mouthed, big American types in the office, and 
possibly new friends for "happy hour." Wow, the possibilities. 

But really, I sat quietly at my desk, feeling nauseous. I had 
never pursued a case this far before. See, the unexpected factor 
in the equation is that I felt for her. I related to this woman who 
wanted to have a break from the grind. She wanted to have her 
life back, and like all of us, probably wanted to work hard at 
something she enjoyed and was interested in. From the conver- 
sations I had with her, she was not interested in tucking in 
someone else's sheets at a hotel and cleaning up after their priv- 
ilege. She was a woman of color who wanted a vacation from 
her racist, sexist, patronizing boss (I know because I was on the 
phone with him all the time). I was not going to be the snitch. 
I do not think people should go to jail for being creative in try- 
ing to survive in our capitalist economy. It is a different story if 
you are orchestrating the workings of the Empire — that is the 
real crime to me. But this girl was just trying to get a break, and 
I felt for her. So, to make a long story short, I did not report her 
to the Feds. I tucked the videotape back into the folder, and 
after a few weeks I convinced her to go to a different doctor, 
who immediately put her back to work, and all of a sudden she 
was well again! Miracle. 

There are many miracles in workers compensation. 

Scene takes place in a stuffy cubicled industrial office space. 
The cubicle walls are short so if you stand up everyone can see 
you. Only real friend in the office who you can tell everything 
to sneaks over to take a break at your desk. You interrupt her 
with your question. 

"Hey Jae, you didn't hear me yelling from across the 
room, did you?" She nods no. 

"Well I was yelling at this employer who was trying to tell 



me how to do my job. He was mad that his employee was not 
back at work yet. I'm thinking, 'He just had hernia surgery, 
and you want him back Hfting 100-pound boxes? He's gonna 
be busting loose again.' And the boss was saying some shit like 
'I really respect my guys here, they've been working for me for 
ten years now, I treat them like familia.' None of the guys there 
speak English — boss is from Gringolandia, and he acts like he 
hosts dinner parties with their families at his house — while 
they're getting paid minimum wage. Ten years? They've been 
working for you for ten years and you're paying them mini- 
mum wage? Plus he's a grade-A asshole, talks down to me, and 
calls me 'honey' on the phone." 

Boss walks by and I pretend that I'm teaching my friend 
how to pull up something on the computer. We both become 
completely absorbed in whatever crap is on the screen, carefully 
sculpted concerned eyebrows. I continued. "But dang, it's 
harder to regulate on the company employers because our boss 

cares what they think. But you know how I am, if someone says 
something hella wrong, I believe in community accountability 
and all that shit, I'll let them know what they did wrong." 

"Girl, that sounds rough," she replied. "Well, I just left my 
desk for lunch and when I came back I checked my messages 
and the lady said in her computer voice, 'you have 32 mes- 
sages.' And earlier I was taking a quick mental break, reading 
a news article for three minutes at my desk, when 'the hawk' 
came by and cast his shadow over me. You know, in his pas- 
sive-aggressive way. Then he says, 'Uh, you know you're not 
supposed to be doing that.' 

I was thinking, 'Uh, well why not motherfucker?' Like 
they own every single second of our time at work. They try to 
run it like a sweatshop, I'm saying that I do good work and 
that's what you are paying me for. 

"And remember before, I got that phone call for an art 
commission (I have a life you know). I took the call at Sarah's 
desk on my cell phone, and so what, I was talk- 
ing on it for a second. Boss comes over and I 
think that he's waiting for Sarah to tell her 
something. So I leave her desk, still on the 
phone, and walk over to my desk. Mind you, I'm 
not disturbing anyone, I'm just handling some- 
thing for a second. I work hard at this job and 
do my work well. And he follows me all the way 
to my desk. At this point I happen to be finish- 
ing my conversation, so I wrap it up at my 
leisure and hang up. 

"'Uh, what was that about?' he asks. 'I was 
on the phone.' (Duh.) 'Uh, well, this is work 
hours.' 'Well um, other people have cell phones 
here, their human connections call them every 
now and then, kids, family, whoever. It's okay to 
pick it up, handle your business for a few sec- 
onds, and then get back to work. That's all I did. 
You know, we have lives outside of work and we 
always do our job just fine.' 

"Girl, I really said that, and he didn't know 
what to say. You know, that passive-aggressive 
shit. And so he walked away. But I really don't 
give a fuck, what are they going to do, fire us? 
They need us, we are juggling at least 150 claims. 
They can barely get people to stick around long 
enough to handle the entire life of a claim. This 
place is weird. But man, the other units, like 
downstairs, you know what they be going 
through. I know because I used to work there, 
they count the minutes you're in the bathroom. 
No joke. Anyway, I gotta get back to work. Walk 
back like normal. I'll see you at lunch. Take it 

The ten realities and rules of workers com- 




1. Celebrate those birthdays! And those promotions, and 
those last days before someone leaves the office, and 
every holiday, and that company spirit, and especially 
those Fridays! Supply a cake every time, and inquire into 
company lunch. If you don't get that, at least you can 
have an hour lunch. 

2. Never date anyone in the office. After you realize their 
mama still folds their laundry and they think that Colin 
Powell sure is a good role model for young African- 
Americans, you wrill have to see them everyday and be 
reminded of this. 

3. Take long breaks, eat during work time, leave the office to 
do errands during your lunch to push a little closer to 
your dreams, one step closer to being able to quit your 

4. Send perverted emails to co-workers to pass the time. 
Laugh when you pass their desk and make a quick gesture 
to reference the joke. 

5. Talk on the phone all the time, and when the boss passes 
by say "Uh, yes, I see, well, we'U just have to send him to 
Oak Valley Medical and get him back to work as soon as 
possible because... yu no blah blah yeah oh kay..." Fade 
out as the boss leaves, "Anyway, gurl. . ." 

6. Have your "herbal remedies" in moderation every morn- 
ing to morph your cubicle into a wild jungle of paper 
mountain ranges; your boss's voice turns into a meaning- 
less buzzing noise that you squash with your foot; your 
co-workers become main characters in the new sitcom 
you are planning in your head. 

7. Learn to speak in coded languages; sign language is a 
good one to start out with during meetings. 

8. Make friends with the computer tech. 'Nuff said. 

9. Smoke in moderation. This is the most important bond- 

ing that takes place with your co-workers. The smokers 
have an entire network of bumming cigarettes, inside 
jokes, gossip you probably don't want to know, and shit- 
talking, like "Yo, I can't take this shit-hole any longer, I'm 
gonna quit tomorrow." Also, if you are known as a 
smoker, you automatically become entitled to hourly 
breaks. Plus you can see who your co-workers are going 
out to lunch with, and then you can trade gossip for cig- 
10. Your work is never done. You can never be "caught up." 
You are either "not drowning" or in "crisis mode." 

Below is a create-your-own-drama game called "You Could 
Be Next!" This game helps you imagine what your future 
work injury might be and the cause of your demise. These 
choices are all real options in the computer program. Please 
choose one selection from each category to complete your 
story, e.g. Nervous Disorder — Allergies — Animal, wild, ver- 
min — Lungs 

Don't forget, it's work-related. So this person's case might 
be that they have a nervous disorder from allergy attacks that 
comes from rats or mice that live in the building where they 
work, and it primarily affects their lungs. 

These are just a few of the many possibilities. Don't forget, 
you can have multiple injuries — strained neck, back, upper and 
lower arms, pain in lower back, tendonitis in both wrists and 
forearms, nausea, stress — especially if you have a lawyer! 

But hey, maybe having your leg broken is better than 
checking in your soul at the door every time you go to work. 
At least at my job, it's the only way to get a decent vacation. 
And just to make it clear, just because you enjoy your work- 
ers-comp-sponsored vacation doesn't mean that your leg does 
not really hurt. You just have your priorities straight. Shit, live 
your life. pw 





nervous disorder 


animal, wild vermin 



crushed between 

electric equipment 

facial tissue 


cut/puncture, power tool 

objects handled 


eye injury 

scald/hot grease 

hot liquid 

right eye 

bite, human 

misconduct of others 

heavy person 

head, scalp 

amputation, partial 

caught between 


hand, right 

insect bite 




disease, contagious 

burn or scald 

strain using tool 



crushed between machinery 

broken glass 

eyes, both 


fall, slip Into excavation, hole 


back, lower 


bite, human 

frozen pipe rupture 



eye injury from grinding 
or chopping 

grease or oil 


emotional distress 




Tom Messmer 

"The apocalypse has been announced so many times that it cannot 
occur. And even if it did it would be hard to distinguish it from the 
everyday fate already reserved for individual and community alike." 

Raoul Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit 

"They hang the man and flog the woman 
who steal the goose from off the common 
But let the greater villain loose 
who steals the common fi-om the goose" 

English folk poem, 17th century 

I'm outside v^aiting for an ambulance to bring in another 
trauma. It's one of those foggy-yet-sunny, surreal San 
Francisco afternoons that occur in the fall, which is actu- 
ally somehow our summer. I noticed a few pigeons con- 
gregating to my left and as I glanced over I realized to my 
horror that they were all happily dining on human blood 
and tissue from an ambulance backboard. 

The budget crisis in San Francisco has become truly dire, 
and according to the folks who calculate such things, sac- 
rifices are in order. What amounts to a 7.5% pay decrease 
is proposed for many who work for the city in such job 
capacities as health aides, janitors, groundskeepers, and, 
in my case, social workers. The union puts this proposal 
to a vote and it narrowly passes. For some reason the 
union was unprepared to propose any alternative to this 
pay cut for the lowest-paid workers in the city. And the 
membership was frightened by the prospect of layoffs: 
many have recently bought homes in the Bay Area and 
are deeply in debt. Still, many are pissed about this, par- 
ticularly since a large pay increase simultaneously came 
through for the city supervisors. 

A man jumped off a freeway overpass and fell 740 feet onto 
the roadway. He was quite dead, but they attempted to 
revive him as a matter of course. I walked into the trauma 
room after they officially pronounced him dead, the floor 
was covered with blood and bloody footprints, he was par- 
tially covered with a sheet. Medical staff stood about qui- 
etly filling out paperwork. For some reason someone was 
pumping music throughout the hospital's PA system and 
the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" was blaring in 
the room. I went back into the room a few minutes later 
and they were playing Aretha's "Natural Woman" and a 
nurse was actually singing and dancing to the music. 

The pay decrease got to me, and I thought to myself, 
"Someone ought to do something." Then it occurred to 
me that this in of itself isn't a particularly helpful senti- 
ment. Terry Pratchett quipped that this thought is never 
followed up with the rider "and that someone is me." I'd 

been reading Saul Alinsky for some odd reason and I 
decide I want to rile people up, so I distribute flyers and 
petitions slamming the union for not fighting, and 
demanding action. I get a bunch of signatures and people 
call the Union griping, so they contact me and set up a 
meeting about what to do. 

5. A homeless Haight Street kid maybe 17 years old is 
brought in by the police. Flis friends were worried about 
him because he had what looked like burns all over his 
body. The police didn't like the way he looked so they 
brought him down. He has a pretty high fever and he tells 
me he thinks he fell asleep in the sun or something. The 
docs are puzzled and wonder if maybe a speed lab blew 
up on him. I talk with him a while and he tells me he ran 
away from home, which was a trailer park somewhere in 
the Midwest. He has one of those squatter symbols badly 
tattooed on his arm. He's quite frightened and tells me he 
really wants to get into a drug treatment program so I 
agree to help him once he's better. I take my half-hour 
regulation dinner and when I come back the room he is 
in is packed with doctors and he has a breathing tube in. 
They don't know what's wrong with him but it appears 
he is suffering from some sort of systemic sepsis. He dies 
that night of complications from necrotizing fasciitis, aka 
"flesh-eating bacteria", which he got from a dirty needle. 

6. I meet with the rep and some other activists on the very day 
Schwarzenegger is elected governor. They all have stunned, 
tired expressions on their faces and have been precinct- 
walking and rushing from meeting to meeting for years, 
probably. With a sinking heart I imagine myself clutching a 
tattered datebook, or even a palm pilot packed full of meet- 
ings and rallies, public forums, and phone banking. This is 
unattractive to me in the extreme and I decide to play 
music and spend time with my fiance instead. 

7. I receive a subpoena from a lawyer about a case I worked 
on in which a 2-year-old Latino child was injured in her 
apartment in the Mission district. The family is suing the 
landlord and the.landlord's lawyer tells me that the kid is 





really OK and that the family is trying to take advantage 
of his client, an "honest, hard-working landlord" who 
happens to live in the wealthy Marina district. I tell him 
that I can't recall a single fact from the case, but that I've 
lived in those Mission tenements and that none of my 
landlords tended to the buildings very well. For some rea- 
son they don't call me to testify. 

8. I'm speaking to a homeless man who is what is referred to 
as a "frequent flyer". He is in the ER at least 3 times a week, 
mostly for alcohol intoxication or being the victim of an 
assault. Between the alcohol and blunt head trauma he has 
become profoundly demented, and his mental capacity is 
about that of a ten year old, with a short-term memory that 
lasts 5 minutes. If I find him a shelter bed and ask him to 
wait for the van to come pick him up and bring him down 
there he will either a) wander off and get drunk; b) go back 
to the triage window and re-register, forgetting that he's 
already been seen (interestingly, if a shift has changed 
recendy, oftentimes the triage nurses won't notice that he's 
left the hospital); or c) sit in the chair all night staring at the 
television. There is not one, or two, but a dozen or more 
people like this who come to the ER regularly. 

9. One of my favorite websites is called The Commoner 
(, a commie website 
which recently featured a discussion of the ancient 
notion of "The Commons." It occurs to me that health 
and caring for others' bodies must be part of this. If it 
isn't, what could be? The Commons are simply those 
things that ought not to be part of the marketplace. In 
the United States in 2004 this concept is viewed by some 
as close to treason, and by most with suspicion. We seem 
to have learned our lessons well, though if I suggest to 
one of the hospital police officers that his job may some 
day be privatized, indeed that it almost certainly will be, 
he scoffs. Could the sort of sentimentality Americans 
reserve for police and fire fighters be enough to stave off 
another Enclosure, or will we return to the days where 
the rich have private security and fire fighters and every- 
one else has what they happen to be able to pay for? Will 
the poor have to rely on bucket brigades? 

10. A rapacious local "public" university that is also some- 
how a famous private research hospital system is increas- 
ingly involved in the operations of the hospital where I 
work. One proposal calls for a relocation of the entire 
hospital to the area that included Mission Rock, a former 
hellhole of a homeless shelter where murder, extortion, 
drug dealing, and pimping were everyday occurrences. It is 
common knowledge that the move is being driven in part 
by top-tier physicians who complain of parking problems 

at the current facility. This hospital has recently proposed 
a new initiative in their world-famous cardiology program 
in which wealthy donors could gain "enhanced access" to 
same-day appointments, house calls(!), a special hotline, 
even physicians' private pager numbers in case of emer- 
gency. These donors include the elite of our society, CEOs 
of major corporations, national political figures, the usual 
suspects. This boutique medical system may be the wave of 
the fijture, despite local outcry, even from the physicians 
forced to play a part in it. 

11. I'm waiting at the ambulance bay for another trauma to 
come in. As the ambulance pulls up and the EMTs open 
the door I find myself looking into the eyes of a dead 
black teenager from some particularly violent local proj- 
ects. He has a bullet hole directly in the middle of his 
forehead. I can feel myself about to faint as my stomach 
is empty and the shock hits me hard. I grab something 
quick to eat and wait for the crowd of family and friends 
to arrive. As a social worker I earn my pay by somehow 
offering comfort and assistance in situations exactly like 
this. But what can one say? I do a lot of listening and nod- 
ding; sometimes I've broken down and cried with people, 
not your stereotypical civil servant response. I'm paid to 
maintain a human presence in the midst of real horror. I 
ask myself what kind of system we have created that 
requires us to pay someone to remain human. 

12. I'm walking through the ER on my rounds and realize 
that just about every bed is occupied by someone who 
has actually been admitted to the hospital but is simply 
parked in the ER waiting for a bed to become available 
upstairs. There are so many sick people out in the com- 
munity not getting regular medical care that many come 
to the ER as a last resort, and when they do they are often 
very ill and in need of hospitalization. Many of these 
folks are there with such preventable diseases as diabetes 
and heart and lung diseases from smoking. The deep love 
affair our society has with privatization, and the equally 
deep denial that the market's hand is neither invisible nor 
particularly benign, are nowhere more obvious than in 
an emergency room in the year 2004. 

13. Despite my ambivalence towards the union, I'll do what I 
can to help when the fight comes, if for nothing other 
than solidarity with the people I work with everyday who 
tend to the sick, the crazy, the suicides, the junkies and 
drunks, and the ever-growing numbers of those who are 
working but uninsured that wind up jammed into the 
waiting room, staring up with glazed, sick expressions at 
reality programs on the ceiling-mounted television. 






Adam Cornford 

RECENT POLL NUMBERS MAKE VISIBLE what most of us have known for some time — that ordinary working 
Americans are a lot less scared of what foreign terrorists might do to them than of what daily life is 
already doing. Such fear, combined with what Daily Show host Jon Stewart calls a "visceral loathing" for the 
Bush regime, may reach the point at which it's replaced by an (actually elected) Kerry Democratic adminis- 
tration. But this by itself will not change the under- 

lying causes of the constant intimidation to which 
most Americans are subjected by the corporate elite 
and its allies and servants in government and the 

Economic Terror 

The greatest single cause of fear in most people's lives is the 
economy. America has lost over three million jobs in the last 
four years, mostly in manufacturing, and mostly above the 
median wage. We are facing the highest levels of unemploy- 
ment since the engineered recession of the early Reagan era — 
the last time this kind of terror was deliberately applied. To be 
fair, some of the jobs are disappearing simply due to compe- 
tition from locally owned firms in low-wage zones such as 
Mexico, China, and the Philippines. But many others are 
being exported to these same low-wage zones by U.S. -based 
corporations. The Bush administration has only accelerated 
the continuation of this process, already well under way dur- 
ing the Clinton era, as prosperity fueled by the stock market 
bubble masked some of the effects of this shift. And while 
John Kerry huffs and puffs about "Benedict Arnold" corpora- 
tions that export high-wage jobs, he has no real proposals for 
stopping the process, which is integral to the WTO-NAFTA- 
CAFTA version of globalization. 

Meanwhile, the Federal government continues to put 
new terror weapons in the hands of corporations: importing 
engineers and other skilled technical workers from South 
Asia, and Bush's Guest Worker bill that would "legalize" 
undocumented workers on temporary visas as virtual inden- 
tured slaves to their employers, are only two examples. 

But again, the backdrop to this is the continual weaken- 
ing, ever since 1948 and the Taft-Hartley Act and much inten- 
sified since 1980, of legal protections for workers, particularly 
of the right to organize, let alone the right to strike. At this 
point the NLRB is a stacked deck, even with — as during the 
CHnton years — a somewhat friendlier team in charge of the 
bureaucracy. The AFL-CIO and Congressional Democrats are 
pushing a bill that will replace the union election — which 

allows employers lots of time to intimidate, bribe, and divide 
their workforce to prevent a "yes" vote — with the much 
quicker "card check" as the primary means of gaining union 
recognition. While this would probably help, workers still 
need on-the-job leverage to force employers into a decent 
contract, and given that most jobs are now exportable, this is 
hard to do without much greater national and international 
coordination among workers in an industry. 

It's not only that an ever-increasing proportion of 
America's workers face job insecurity: new jobs laid-off work- 
ers are likely to get will typically pay less and have inferior ben- 
efits and conditions. Meanwhile, even workers with relatively 
weU-paid and secure jobs — the UFCW grocery clerks, for 
instance — are facing brutal employer pressure to cut their 
health benefits, (see also "A State By Any Other Name" on page 
24.) Corporations prefer a high level of unemployment because 
it enforces what economists like to call "market discipline;" that 
is, it scares workers into tolerating the intolerable. The kind of 
life described by Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed: On 
(Not) Getting By in America — working one-and-a-half or even 
two full-time jobs, neither of which pays much above a shriv- 
eled minimum wage, just to get by — is becoming the norm for 
the bottom third of the workforce. To chronic fear are added 
chronic stress, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and, for an 
increasing number, malnutrition, caused less by a shortage of 
food than by a shortage of time to prepare anything wholesome 
for oneself and one's family. 

It seems likely that the rapid growth of obesity as a major 
cause of illness and death in the U.S., along with rising rates of 
infant mortality and declining average height (adjusted for eth- 
nic background) are all symptomatic of this state of affairs. So, 
I suspect, are such cultural phenomena as the wholly irrational 
surge in popularity of gas-guzzling SUVs, which are less safe 
than smaller cars but make their owners feel safer, the bloating 
of portions in chain restaurants, the rise of evangelical "mega- 
churches," and the general tendency to simple-minded 
escapism in entertainment. Even George W Bush's stubborn 
popularity with nearly half the voting population, in the face of 
ever-mounting evidence of corruption, fraud, and malevolent 



incompetence, is, I would argue, fundamentally about fear and 
the wish not to think and act for oneself Bush's crude division 
of the world into good and evil forces, his macho pretence of 
decisiveness and strength in the face of "our enemies," are paci- 
fiers in the mouths of people infantilized by chronic anxiety 
overlaid on authoritarian conditioning. 

Meanwhile, the lack of decent health insurance — or any at 
all — for more than 40 million Americans is another major 
source of economic terror. With little or no coverage for cata- 
strophic hospital care, millions of Americans live in dread of 
serious or chronic illness. Workers accept ever-increasing pre- 
miums and co-pays imposed by employers because they're 
afraid of ending up in a worse situation, possibly with no insur- 
ance at all. (Wal-Mart is but one model in the post-Reagan US 
economy. Let us pause here to spit on the Gipper's grave; 
Alzheimer's let him off too easily.) This warms the hearts of the 
insurers, just as the Bush administration's new Medicare bill 
banning the cross-border sale of cheaper drugs from Canada, 
puts smiles on the faces of pharmaceutical executives. A steady 
flow of money from these interests into state and federal poli- 
tics, as well as into media campaigns, keeps the idea of Western 
Europe- and Canadian-style tax-funded, universal, national 
health insurance beyond serious discussion. The Clintons' dis- 
astrous, labyrinthine attempt at an impossible compromise 
between for-profit insurance and the need for universal cover- 
age, which helped Nev^ Gingrich and Co. gain control of 
Congress in 1994, has ever since intimidated all but a few politi- 
cians out of any attempt to propose serious reform. Kerry's cur- 
rent proposal is little better, though it does at least advance the 
notion that health care is a right, not a privilege. 

If illness is scary, retirement is nerve-wracking. Countless 
workers have already lost much of their retirement money 
through irresponsible investing by their pension, 401 (k), and 
mutual fund managers during the '90s bubble. Meanwhile, 
although contrary to alarmist propaganda from right-wing 
pundits. Social Security is still solvent, the Bush strategy of 
starving the Federal government of funds via tax cuts and 
overspending is designed to force the system into privatiza- 
tion. This would release a huge flow of capital into the coffers 
of investment banks and insurance companies, but leave 
nearly all the rest of us vulnerable to market fluctuations in 
the assets upon which we will depend in our old age. 

In fact, this effort to force the looting of Social Security is 
once again merely a continuation of the fundamental strategy 
of the corporate Right. This strategy was propagated during 
Reagan's first term by the front group Americans for Tax 
Reform, and famously summarized by its current leader, 
Gingrich/Bush advisor, anti-tax ideologue, and Grateful Dead 
fan Grover Norquist: ". . .to get [government] down to the size 
where we can drown it in the bathtub." Of course, this faction, 
which dominates the Bush regime, does not really wish to 
eliminate government. On the contrary, there are parts of the 
government that it is expanding as rapidly as possible — 

notably the military, the intelligence services, and aggres- 
sive/repressive functions generally, and tax and legislative 
support for corporations. What these swine really mean by 
"government" is all the things it does to aid the poor, sick, eld- 
erly, and infirm, and to defend the interests of individuals and 
civil organizations such as unions and social welfare, environ- 
mental, and consumer groups as opposed to corporations. 
Once again, I am not suggesting that a Kerry administration 
would reverse all these trends anywhere near aggressively 
enough — only that it represents a more farsighted coalition of 
elite forces, which recognizes the dangers of runaway federal 
deficits, mass poverty, elimination of the stably employed 
working class, and global warming. 

Social Terror 

Americans are also experiencing higher social and familial anx- 
iety, much of which can be directly traced to the defunding of 
public services over the last two decades (again, big props to the 
grinning ghost of Ronald Reagan for this one, as also to the 
withered specters of Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, authors of 
California's Prop 13). Most states now face severe deficits as a 
result of the Bush administration's massive cuts in grants for 
health, welfare, education, and transportation on top of the 
steady erosion of their tax revenues caused by decades of pres- 
sure from corporations, real-estate interests, and upper-mid- 
dle-class homeowners. In fact, all 50 states are at least 

Anyone says I'm naked 
... is a terrorist. 



technically bankrupt. This particularly pernicious 
general fiscal starvation of local and regional gov- 
ernment has been renewed by the Christian- 
Right-led attack on programs dealing with HIV, 
drug issues, and sexuality and reproductive rights. 

The results are visible everywhere: decaying 
public schools with demoralized, underpaid 
teachers; skyrocketing college tuition alongside 
mostly flat financial aid; mass transit that goes 
fewer places, less often, for higher fares; a public 
health system on the verge of collapse. 

Working parents face a host of worries about 
their children: how they'll get to school on time, 
how they'll obtain a good education, and how safe 
they'll be. (That said, recent parent surveys sug- 
gest a curiously schizoid, presumably denial-fueled attitude to 
public education, which boils down to: the schools in general 
are totally screwed up, but my kid's school is OK.) How they'll 
pay for college, assuming they can get into college on the test 
scores they're able to generate after the patchy schooling they've 
had; how they'll keep from abusing alcohol and drugs, con- 
tracting HIV, or getting pregnant' — and how they'll get treat- 
ment or an abortion if they do!.. No wonder suicide is the 
second largest cause of death among teenagers after car acci- 
dents, no wonder divorce rates are so high, and no wonder the 
market for antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs is booming. 

In addition to these entirely realistic worries, there is a 
curious, semi-illusory dimension to the social terror cam- 
paign — the issue of crime. Throughout the last seven or eight 
years of the twentieth century and into this one, crime rates 
were actually dropping even as anxiety about crime was ris- 
ing, fueled by media hysteria and right-wing ideologues. The 
Right attributed this drop to the ever-longer sentences, many 
of them mandatory, being handed down even for nonviolent 
felonies, such as the sale or possession of crack cocaine, and 
especially to the "three strikes" laws enacted in so many states 
during that period. Studies, however, have shown that the 
drop is not mainly attributable to tough sentences and 
tougher prisons; in fact, these sentences and prisons are creat- 
ing an increasingly larger pool of recidivistic, violent 
sociopaths — and also prison mega-gangs, of which the Aryan 
Brotherhood is only the most brutal, that have not only 
spread, along with AIDS and TB, through the entire American 
gulag but are busy building criminal empires on the outside. 
The "justice" system is a self- replicating social terror machine. 

Political Terror 

Finally, Americans face direct and indirect political intimida- 
tion. In the years since 9/1 1, it has been difficult to voice any 
serious criticism of the Bush administration for fear of being 
labeled a traitor. From the very day of the Al Qaeda atrocities, 
a concerted government and media campaign set out to 
exploit them for political purposes. (The curious unconcern 

of Bush and his top aides on the day of the attacks, as well as 
such mysteries as the failure of the Air Force to scramble 
together assault aircraft once the airliners were known to be 
missing, is finally, with the huge success of Fahrenheit 911, 
getting more attention.) The ensuing PATRIOT Act of 2001 
has authorized a host of repressive measures, including the 
virtual suspension of privacy rights, and allows the Attorney 
General to define "terrorist" and "terrorist support" organiza- 
tions more or less at will. 

One of the more stunning bits of chutzpah on the part of 
the Bush regime has been its appointment to high-level posts 
of several indicted or convicted "Iran-Contra" felons. Among 
these, former Reagan National Security advisor Adm. John 
Poindexter stands out not only for his role as primary archi- 
tect of the Iran-Contra scheme but for his directorship of the 
post-2001 Office of Information Awareness (OIA). OIA's goal 
is nothing less than to create a vast Internet and telecom sur- 
veillance system, originally named Total Information 
Awareness and halted by Congress in 2003, but now being 
stealthily pursued piecemeal. TIA would allow not only a 
sophisticated computer analysis of the immensely widening 
wiretapping authorized by PATRIOT, but would also facilitate 
mining of internet traffic and of the immense virtual database 
created by the linkage of transaction records and other per- 
sonal information via an individual's driver's license and 
Social Security number. All this, of course, in the name of 
combating terrorism. If you're not terrorized by this deep 
invasion of privacy, you should be. 

As dissent beyond the timidly ineffectual is increasingly 
tarred with the "terrorist" brush, so protest is treated with 
much greater brutality by the police, as seen in the violence 
dealt out last year to antiwar protesters and longshore work- 
ers in Oakland and to global justice demonstrators in Miami. 
In this climate, it has been much easier for the Republican 
leadership to continue its campaign of gerrymandering (as in 
Texas), vote-rigging (as in Florida), and demagoguery (as in 
the California Governor recall). 



Isolation versus Solidarity 

The corporate elite is able to impose this regime of fear 
not only because a mere 13 percent of the U.S. workforce 
(mostly in the public sector, at that) belongs to any kind of 
union and the already biased framework of labor law is con- 
sistently enforced against organizing efforts, but for another, 
deeper reason. 

Until the middle of the 
last century, workers for a 
given enterprise or industry, 
such as the New York garment 
district, tended to live close 
together and close to the work- 
place, in tenements or row 
houses. They had strong social 
networks and practiced 
mutual aid out of necessity. 
Union organizing, despite an 
even more hostile legal situa- 
tion, was easier because workers knew and supported each 
other outside of work. 

But today's employees seldom live near each other or 
their extended families, and forfeit hours of their unpaid, 
"free" time commuting to work from scattered suburban 
homes. Despite the phone and the Internet, this makes the 
logistics of organizing much harder. More profoundly, it cre- 
ates isolation, rendering us (and I do mean us, as in you and 
me, dear reader of this sophisticated publication, not just 
"them" — do you really think you're immune?) vulnerable to 
the dizzying stream of pro-business, pro-privatization propa- 
ganda pouring from our radios and TV sets. It reinforces the 
constant theme in American culture, propagated relentlessly 
for the last quarter-century by right-wing foundations and 
think tanks, that we are all entrepreneurs competing in the 
great marketplace, pitching our skills and personalities as 
merchandise to the highest bidder. If we find ourselves poor, 
broke, sick, or unemployed, it's nobody's fault but our own. 
Life is a race, and we're the losers — end of story. (Still don't 
like the "we"? When was the last time you called someone a 
"loser"? Aren't you engaged in this competition in some way?) 

The first step in overcoming 
fear, then, is overcoming the shame 
we feel at what seem our own fail- 
ures. Of course we may have made 
mistakes, but the economic and 
social conditions that have been 
imposed on us make the conse- 
quences of otherwise minor errors 
potentially deadly. It's as if the force 
of gravity has been doubled, so that 
even a small fall breaks bones. 

Once we recognize that mil- 

m mmami-'itmm mn ii »m 

lions of other people, including some of our neighbors, face 
the same terrifying conditions we face, we can take the next 
step, moving to overcome isolation. If we're lucky enough to 
belong to a decent union — one that actually, unlike many 
unions, does provide real collective as well as individual 
defense for its members — that's obviously the first stop. But 
other grassroots groups, from patients' rights and tenants' 

organizations to neighbor- 
hood groups, can also provide 
short-term support. Some- 
times it's just our friends who 
save us. But the first thing is to 
get past trying to face it alone. 
Beyond the immediate 
crisis, the key to rolling back 
the everyday terror we face is 
solidarity. Solidarity is based 
on trust, a trust built face-to- 
face, in small groups, out of 
dialogue and shared experi- 
ence. Each time our trust is rewarded, we grow stronger as indi- 
viduals and as a group. We begin to believe that if we stumble, 
others will help us to our feet again, as we will help them. At the 
same time, we are reinforced in our understanding that the 
source of our worst problems and most excruciating fears is the 
existing political, social, and economic system — a system 
designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many and to 
terrorize the many into passively accepting it. 

Survival as Terror 

This is the crucial point. All rhetoric of freedom and oppor- 
tunity to the contrary, capitalism has always been based on 
fear. Yes, ambition, for one's children if not for oneself, has 
been an important motivator, too, in keeping countless peo- 
ple working at mind-numbing, soul-killing, often body- 
breaking jobs year in, year out, until they die or are "retired." 
But ultimately, for most people most of the time, it boils 
down to what John Winthrop, first governor of the 
Massachusetts Bay Colony, told his people: "He that does not 
work, neither shall he eat." This has always been the first law 
of capitalism for the worker. During the long postwar boom 
of (roughly) 1948-1972, it was 
possible to live without much eco- 
nomic fear in the "developed" 
countries because jobs that paid 
enough to live on were so plentiful, 
and beneath them was the social 
safety net developed since the end 
of the Depression. The result by 
the late '60s was a wholesale 
"revolt against work" not only by 
the so-called hippies but by mil- 
lions of working-class youth. And 




this revolt, even when expressed individually, as it 
was more often than not, was part of a collective 
culture of refusal, expressed in various more visible 
social movements — the peace movement, the black 
and Chicano movements, the women's and gay 
rights movements. An essential aspect of the eco- 
nomic crisis of the later '70s was the reimposition 
of labor market terror on younger workers via 
inflation and recession combined. This reimposi- 
tion has continued ever since. 

The worst of it is this. When John Winthrop 
made his pronouncement, the productivity of labor 
was so low and the social group so small that it was 
indeed a necessity. But even by the late nineteenth 
century, productivity had been so multiplied by 
technology that Paul Lafargue, in his pamphlet The 
Right to Be Lazy, could contemplate the possibUity of 
a four-hour workday. More than a century later, 
most work in developed countries is now of two 
kinds, neither of which would be needed in a system 
built on people's needs for enjoyment, creativity, and 
freedom. One kind of work is making sure capital 
circulates — -marketing and selling merchandise; col- 
lecting, routing, storing, and tracking the money the 
sales generate; and so forth. The other is providing 
other workers with the services they can no longer 
perform for themselves and each other because of 
the time they must to sacrifice to job, commute, and, 
increasingly, the "work" of shopping in warehouse 
stores — fast food, home and auto maintenance and 
repair, most "entertainment." In other words, all this 
constant stress and fear and exhaustion, and the 
meaninglessness of most work, are both utterly 
unnecessary. Except that the lie-soaked, violence-backed power 
of the existing order forces each of us, individually, to repro- 
duce it by what we do every day. 

From Solidarity to Freedom 

This understanding is itself terrifying because of the scale of the 
task with which it confronts us. It's also exhilarating, because 
the glowing, toxic clouds of pro-business propaganda and pri- 
vate-individualist ideology begin to clear and we can see where 
we are. But solidarity also shows us something more. Over and 
over again during the last century and a half, workers collec- 
tively resisting the system that exploits and terrorizes them have 
come to understand that solidarity is not just a means, but an 
end in itself — the basis for a new and better kind of society. 
Rapidly expanding grassroots communication, face-to-face 
direct decision-making, ad hoc organization of mutual aid in 
forms like emergency food distribution centers, strike kitchens 
and clinics, and in some cases actual takeover of workplaces 
and transport systems — all these aspects of large-scale solidar- 
ity begin, in the words of the Wobblies, "building the new soci- 

Oclobec 24. 2001 

T0rror in 
the mail 

► Contents of letters thai were 
laced with anthrax released 

ety within the shell of the old." Quite simply, people begin pro- 
ducing the goods and services they decide together are needed, 
and those that need them get them. The founding principle of 
such a society is that the freedom of each one of us, far from 
being limited by our material and psychological interdepend- 
ence, actually grows out of it, as blades of grass grow from the 
root-web just under the soil. To care for each other, then, is to 
care for ourselves. A truism, like much else I've said here, but no 
less true for that. 

It's a cliche that love conquers fear. Solidarity does not 
mean love — though, as veterans of labor, civil rights, and 
women's struggles can tell you, it often leads to love. But it 
does mean acting as if we loved and were loved by the people 
we fight alongside, for justice, for pleasure, for creativity and 
imagination applied direcdy to the conditions of life — for a 
life in which we really can, as we yearn to, "breathe free." pw 

1 . Rates of teen pregnancy declined through the '90s, probably because of bet- 
ter sex education funded by the Federal government via such groups as 
Planned Parenthood. With the return to "abstinence-only" sex "education" 
under Bush, we can expect them to rise again. 




Natasha Moss-Dedrick 

TAKE A CLOSE LOOK AT THE BADGE ON THE GROCERY WORKER'S CHEST next time you go to pick up tooth- 
paste at a Safeway (Vons), Kroger (Ralphs, Cala, Bell), or Albertsons. You might see one that reads, 
"I'm the property of [store name]." That's how some of the 70,000 southern California grocery workers 
are expressing their feelings about their recent strike and lockout and the resulting contract. Some work- 
ers are biting their tongues, others are fighting among themselves, and nearly everyone is talking about 
quitting. But Doug Dority, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 
International until the end of the strike, called it 

"one of the most successful strikes in history." 

Last winter's grocery workers' strike was the biggest strike 
in almost a decade; not since the Teamsters' 1996 UPS strike 
have so many workers been out on the picket line. The way 
this strike was handled speaks volumes about the (dis)organ- 
ization and orientation of the UFCW — the union represent- 
ing the grocery workers — and the labor movement in general. 

My interest in analyzing the southern California grocery 
worker's strike comes from sadness about what is and a desire 
for what can be. I want people, workers, to organize their col- 
lective power, taste that power, and use it successfully. I tasted 
it once, when I was a bicycle messenger in San Francisco. In 
2000 my co-workers and I organized against very crappy 
wages and conditions and for worker control at the company. 
We actually won big, and we did it outside union channels 
and without negotiating a written contract. To my surprise, 
the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (the offi- 
cial union trying to organizing bike messengers in San 
Francisco) impeded us in many respects. My "union, yes" atti- 
tude was shaken up by the experience, leading to important 
questions and interesting possibilities. 

The UFCW "strategy" employed in the southern 
California grocery workers' strike was dead on arrival. Many 
strikers and observers believe the union didn't do enough 
before, during, and after the strike to organize the workers, 
broaden the fight, and hurt the companies. Ray Rogers of 
Corporate Campaign, Inc., a firm that helps unions strategize, 
put it bluntly: "With that number of workers idled full-time. . ., 
with the proper direction, support, and strategy, they not only 
should be able to win a strike, they ought to win a revolution." 
The UFCW is the AFL-CIO's biggest union, with 1.4 million 
members. It has enormous human and material resources, and 
yet it led its strong and determined members to defeat. 

"Now it's just another job, not like it used to be. It's no 
career anymore. Everybody lost respect and trust in the 
union, and of course, we don't trust the store.... We didn't 
win anything; in fact we lost a lot," says Lydia Baouni, who 
invested almost 30 years of work in the unionized grocery 
store industry. Things haven't worked out the way she 

expected. She worked full-time at Safeway until two years ago, 
when she moved to Ralphs after being dismissed from 
Safeway for pursuing charges of sexual harassment in the 
workplace. At Ralphs she started at the bottom, working part- 
time as a courtesy clerk, bagging groceries and servicing the 
deli. She went from making $19 an hour as a daily manager 
and training coach to making less than $7 an hour. 

Lydia was a shop steward for UFCW Local 770 at the 
Silver Lake store in the Los Angeles area until just before the 
recent strike. She stepped down from the position because she 
didn't like what she saw in the union. "When you ask ques- 
tions [of the union] and they don't have answers for you and 
are completely rude to you, why do I have to force myself to 
be 100% with them?" 

Even so, at the urging of her fellow workers, Lydia took on 
the role of picket captain at her store when the strike began in 
October 2003. She is very proud of her picket crew for the 
tenacity and strength they showed in holding the line for four- 
and-a-half months. They faced many hardships, including los- 
ing homes and cars, facing eviction, and going for months 
without health care. For working 30 to 40 hours a week on the 
picket line, strikers were paid $240 in the beginning, and later 
$100, while enduring winter rains, black smoke- filled skies 
fi-om the raging southern California fires, threatening thugs, 
and an unprepared and uncommunicative union. 

Lydia says the union's "lack of communication is the 
number one reason things are falling apart" for the workers. 
The lack of communication and accountability from UFCW 
officials to union members came up repeatedly in my inter- 
views with workers and community-based strike supporters. 
The union didn't communicate to the workers about what 
was happening with the strike, so as Lydia spent each day and 
night on the picket line, her friends shared with her what they 
learned from the television news. 

You might expect a union to provide its members with all 
information pertinent to making an informed decision about 
their future in the workplace. You might also expect a union 
to allow time for members to consider the details of a contract 
and to hold meetings to answer questions about it. That did- 



n't happen with the UFCW in southern California. Eighty-six 
percent of the workers voted "yes" to a contract at the end of 
February 2004. The contract was nearly 30 pages long, but the 
members say they only received a partial summary. The union 
said it was the best contract workers were going to get and 
suggested they vote "yes." Workers were asked to vote on the 
contract on the spot or by the next day without any union- 
wide discussion. 

What disappointed Lydia most during the strike was the 
union's decision to pull pickets from Ralphs stores a month 
into the strike. She was told, as the picket captain, to come to 
a late-night meeting regarding a secret that would be revealed 
the next day. At the meeting she learned that her crew would 
be moved from picketing their own store to picketing a Vons 
store because the union wanted "to give consumers a shop- 
ping option." At noon the next day, a union official told 
everyone to leave Ralphs. "I asked why and refused to leave, so 
he said, 'If you don't move the police are going to put you all 
in jail.' We were tired and mad. I said, 'I'm not going to move 
and my people are behind me.' So he asked everybody to 
move and they said 'No, we're behind her.' They brought a 
lawyer and all these people from the union. They tried to 
explain to us that they had made a contract with the store that 
if we didn't move they'd put us in jail. They even had our 
[strike pay] checks at the other store." 

At Vons, her crew had to fight with customers, managers, 
and scabs as if it were day one. Saying the strikers were in their 
territory, thugs intimidated them by firing guns into the air, 
throwing eggs at them, and threatening to beat them up. Lydia 
says she stayed at the picket line from 7:00am until midnight 
because she didn't want anything to happen to her "girls", as 
she referred to the many single mothers on her crew. 
According to Lydia, the union did nothing to help and said 
there was no better location to offer them. Union officials, 
though, say they dispatched people to handle many of the fre- 
quent reports of violence against picketers. The strikers 
remained at Vons for nearly three months before they 
returned to picketing their own store. The union returned 
pickets to some Ralphs stores in mid- January after it became 
clear that the "big three" stores had made a deal with each 
other to share profits, thereby softening the financial impact 
of the strike, and taking advantage of the increase in sales at 
Ralphs due to the removal of the pickets. The strike and lock- 
out ended just over a month later. 

The Contract 

The contract signed at the end of February made many con- 
cessions. The union made no gains; they just staved off some 
of the cuts the companies wanted. The average southern 
California grocery worker makes less than $22,000 annually. 
It's the benefits and pay progressions which come with union- 
ized grocery store positions that have made these jobs desir- 
able for working-class people, especially women, young 

people, and single mothers. All that has changed with the new 
contract. A two-tier plan has been instituted in the stores, 
with one benefit and pay scale for new hires and one for cur- 
rent workers (those workers who were already employed by 
the companies when the strike and lockout began). 

Multi-tier systems have become commonplace in union 
contracts. These systems effectively create a hierarchical work 
environment with people doing the same work for different 
pay. Upon returning to work, many grocery workers found 
their hours cut, with new hires given the cut hours at less pay. 
The new pay scale gives new hires as much as $4 less an hour 
for the same work. To make matters worse, the duties of 
lower-paying positions have been expanded to include work 
formerly completed by workers in higher-paid positions. 

While the union managed to prevent the creation of sep- 
arate health benefit funds for new workers and current work- 
ers, the contract significantly reduces the health care costs of 
the employers at the expense of the workers. First, not only 
did the eligibility rules change so that new hires are ineligible 
for health benefits until the end of their first year of employ- 
ment, but they also have to wait a year-and-a-half after that 
before their dependents can be covered. Second, insurance 
premiums are to be paid by all new hires, and beginning in the 
third year of the contract, current workers will be expected to 
pay premiums for their coverage as well. Finally, the employ- 
ers now contribute approximately $3 less per hour worked to 
the employee health benefit fund. These and other changes 
mean less, or no, health coverage for workers and their fami- 
lies. (For more information on estimates of the impact of this 
contract on workers and Californians in general, see 

As for the pension fund, again the union managed to pre- 
vent the companies from creating separate funds for new 
hires and current workers, but big reductions were made in 
employer contributions. Although very few new hires will 
likely stay with the companies long enough to get a pension, 
new hires now earn about half (80<I per hour worked) of what 
current employees make. 

The most devastating aspect of the new two-tier system is 



something that many workers themselves did not understand 
when they voted on the contract. As current workers accept 
promotions into new departments, they are now paid the new 
employee wage! For example, under the old contract Cornelio 
Higuera, another Ralphs employee and a Local 770 member, 
was working between 30 and 40 hours a week, making $17.90 
for half of it and $7.50 for the other half, depending on which 
position he was scheduled for. After returning from 141 days 
on strike, he was offered and accepted a promotion to the 
seafood department where he now works fewer hours and 
makes $7.55 under the tiered system. 

When I asked Rick Icaza, the millionaire president of 
Local 770 (the largest UFCW local in southern California, 
with 20,000 grocery clerk members) why strikers say they are 
finding out the hard way that they, too, are subject to the two- 
tier system, he said such knowledge was "clear and unequivo- 
cal" before the signing of the contract and that Cornelio 
"shouldn't have accepted the promotion." I told him that 
when Cornelio tried to retract the promotion after he got his 
first paycheck, management told him it was too late. Icaza 
suggested he file a grievance. Cornelio and many other strik- 
ers and strike supporters said the union totally ignores its 
members. If the union responds at all, it is to blame the con- 
tract and claim its "hands are tied." 

Besides the pay and health care cuts, the grocery workers 
(unless they are among the many who have already quit or 
been laid off) are also being harassed at work using provisions 
of the new contract and the strike settlement agreement. The 
companies were given a 21 -day period to do whatever sched- 
uling and logistical changes were necessary to get stores up 
and running again. The contract also allows the companies to 
relocate workers to stores within a 25-mile radius of their 
home, and there's nothing the workers can do about it. Those 
who were more militant on the picket line are feeling the heat, 
with transfers, shift changes, fewer full-time positions, and 
layoffs. One shop steward was transferred to three different 
stores within 24 hours. The strike totally altered the work 
environment, with low morale, feelings of betrayal by the 
union and the companies, and exhaustion. Adding fuel to the 
fire, strikers are working alongside scabs, as allowed by the 
contract. Workers say at least two scabs remain at each store, 
with many more working in the bigger stores. Furthermore, 
management forbids any talk about the strike, and even the 
use of the word "scab" is prohibited at jobsites. 

In brief, the result of the contract is that workers who 
struck got the short end of the stick, losing what they had and 
gaining nothing. Unionized grocery work will change as the 
two-tier system is fully implemented: relatively decent wages 
and benefits will be largely replaced by unlivable wages and 
benefits. All this happened while 70,000 workers put them- 
selves on the line for nearly five months, hoping the power of 
their collective actions, and their union's strategy, would pre- 
vail. Maybe it should be no surprise that they didn't. 

What's History Got to Do with it? 

The UFCW is an amalgamation of many kinds of workers. It 
was formed in 1979 by the merging of the Retail Clerks 
International Union and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters 
union. Since then it has absorbed many others, from the 
Insurance Workers International Union to the United Garment 
Workers of America. The southern California UFCW locals are 
not used to fighting; last winter was the first time they were 
engaged in a serious battle with the grocers. But some of the 
union officials had previously been involved in big UFCW 

Ex-International president Doug Dority had been with 
the UFCW for decades. His name is closely linked to the infa- 
mous 1985 Hormel meatpacking struggle in Austin, 
Minnesota. The UFCW local there. Local P9, leveraged its 
considerable power and spirit in order to win higher wages 
and address the serious safety issues at the plant. The 
International urged the members of the local to go on strike, 
and they did, for nine months. They created a strong com- 
munity of workers and worker-supporters. They used the 
union hall as a community center where they shared skills and 
resources with one another. Apparently, however, P9ers were 
becoming too autonomous by trying to raise their wages sev- 
eral dollars above the standard pay of other UFCW meat- 
packers. So the UFCW got organized — they put the local into 
trusteeship and negotiated a concessionary contract. 

According to Ray Rogers of Corporate Campaign, Bill 
Wynn, then-UFCW International president, sent Doug Dority 
to undermine P9's efforts. Seven years ago, at a Laborers 
International Union conference, Dority made an eye-opening 
admission. Rogers explains what happened: 

"I walked up to Doug, and said, 'Ya know, you still have a 
terrible situation in the whole meatpacking industry, and you 
could really use our help.' Doug responded, 'The problem 
with you, Ray, is that you attack the people you work for.' I 
said, 'Wait a minute. I was working for and representing Local 
P9. Are you talking about that situation?' He said, 'Yeah'. I said, 
'Why was it that an international union that couldn't spend 
one penny to help out these workers who were fighting so 



hard against concessions but they could spend millions of 
dollars [on] 30 organizers, 30 rent-a-cars, and 30 hotel rooms 
to undermine and destroy everything that this union and my 
organization were fighting for.' He looked at me and said, 'I'm 
the guy that sent them in.' So, I looked at him and said, 'You 
should be real proud of yourself, you set the labor movement 
back decades.' He was then real anxious to get away from me." 

Dority isn't the only UFCW official with a duplicitous 
history. Joe Hansen, the man who recently took over as 
International president, was also in Minnesota at the time of 
the Hormel strike, working as assistant to the regional direc- 
tor. According to Jim Guyette, the president of Local P9 dur- 
ing that strike, "Joe Hansen was the guy who sold the Austin 
workers down the road." He was involved in negotiating the 
contract that meant many of the strikers wouldn't get their 
jobs back and created a two-tier system in the plant. 
"Unfortunately," Guyette says, "the most militant trade 
unionists find themselves without a job. They're the ones that 
buy the union line on how to win a strike, and those are the 
ones the union never gets back to work." After working for 
over 18 years in a plant, Guyette himself became one of those 
workers. Ray Rogers says the meatpacking industry has never 
recovered from the concessions made by the union and is still 
one of the most horrendous and dangerous industries in the 
United States (for more on this, read Fast Food Nation: The 
Dark Side of the All- American Meal). 

Comparing the Hormel strike with the southern 
California grocery strike, Guyette says the "same method of 
operation" was used by the UFCW. His advice to UFCW 
workers who are considering a fight-back strategy: "You have 
to understand your union doesn't always have the same inter- 
ests that the membership has. You have to look at the UFCW 
in the context of what's best for them. Their method of oper- 
ation has been retrenchment and trading full-time jobs for 
part-time jobs." 

The Devil in tlie Details 

Everyone, even UFCW officials, agrees that the fight should 
have been a national one. Union officials, however, told me that 
the necessity of employing a coherent, multi-faceted national 
strategy only became obvious in hindsight. For the most part, 
the struggle was isolated to southern California, even though 
other UFCW contracts expired at the same chain stores around 
the country, and other UFCW grocery worker strikes took 
place around the same time and over the same basic issues. No 
attempt was made to use the national power of the union to 
fight the national companies and their national resources. The 
union handled, and continues to handle, each contract negoti- 
ation individually or regionally. Both Rick Icaza and Ron Lind, 
secretary-treasurer of San Jose Local 428, declared that the gro- 
cery stores "are no longer regional," family-owned opera- 
tions — as if to suggest that prior to this, it hadn't dawned on 
them that they represent workers at stores that are giant chains 

stretching across the country and, in the case of Safeway, into 
Canada. Although union officials acknowledge that the need 
for a national campaign is now obvious, the union's actions 
around the country show otherwise. 

Both Icaza and Lind said the companies' hard line was 
out of character, implying that that's why the union was 
caught off-guard. "Safeway and the union had a bond. 
[Safeway CEO] Steve Burd changed that," said Lind. Sounding 
a little forlorn and still surprised by the companies' approach, 
Icaza lamented, "We had a working relationship with the 
industry that was a win/win situation." 

Icaza even told me that it wasn't a surprise that the stores 
intended to make big cuts during these contract negotiations. 
In fact, the UFCW had over a year's advance warning that the 
companies planned, as Burd put it, "to narrow the gap in 
every single negotiation without exception" by freezing wages 
or offering lump-sum payments; establishing a market-based 
rate for new hires; offering voluntary buyouts to senior 
employees; redesigning health-care packages; containing pen- 
sion increases; and striving for more liberal work rules. Those 
are Burd's paraphrased comments as they were posted on the 
UFCW website, and excerpted from the November 18, 2002 
issue of Supermarket News. Furthermore, Bernie Hesse, head 
of organizing for UFCW Local 789 in Minneapolis, told me a 
real campaign "should have been set up two years ago when 
Safeway started sending out VHS tapes to workers saying, 
'This is the economy we're in, and we're paying X amount an 
hour more than our competitors and we need to survive.'" So, 
the union knew it was coming, but didn't prepare for the 
fight. Workers say they didn't even know they would be strik- 
ing until three days beforehand. 

In explaining its hard line, the grocery industry said it 
needed to reduce wages and health-care costs because of the 
"Wal-Mart threat" and the need to be able to compete with 
the low-wage, non-union employer. The UFCW in southern 
California countered that Wal-Mart plans to build "only" 40 
stores in California over the next four years, taking just 1% of 
the market share. Even so, a short time before the strike and 
lockout, the UFCW raised membership dues in order to build 
a fund to prevent Wal-Mart from coming into the region. In 
April, a campaign in which the UFCW participated success- 
fully prevented Wal-Mart from building a store in Inglewood, 
California. The UFCW has embarked on union drives at var- 
ious Wal-Marts around the country, but hasn't won a battle 
with the giant yet. So instead, they're spending union money 
to fight Wal-Mart's expansion. (Wal-Mart is the biggest pri- 
vate employer in the United States, with over one million 
workers. Its record on labor issues here and abroad, environ- 
mental issues, and the destruction of locally owned stores is 

Union officials also point to Wal-Mart when discussing 
the cuts in the southern CaUfornia contract. Minneapolis's 
Bernie Hesse said, "These jobs, even though they took an ass- 



kicking, are still the premier jobs in retail because they're 
organized, they have benefits, and for the most part these jobs 
pay a living wage. If you go to the unorganized side of retail — 
Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart — most of these jobs are not even 
close to this." Unfortunately, as a result of this contract, there 
are significantly few^er grocery jobs paying a living wage. 
Unlivable union wages are a bad advertisement for unions. It's 
no wonder many potential union members reject unioniza- 
tion on the basis of paying dues — it's hard to make the argu- 
ment for dues when many union members make $7 an hour 
and others are laid off after taking collective action. 

The executives and shareholders of the grocery stores lost 
more than $2 billion in collective revenue as a result of the 
strike, but they consciously took such a hit in order to lower 
their labor costs and divide and conquer their workforce with 
a two-tier wage and benefit system. In fact, Steve Burd called 
the losses an "investment in our future." Last year, while the 
supermarkets cried "Wal-Mart," they profited in the billions. 
Now, they're hoping to impress shareholders and raise stock 
prices with lowered costs of doing business in southern 
California and the presumption that they will produce simi- 
lar results as more contracts expire around the country. 

The UFCW leadership defends this strike as a victory. 
The fact that the workers held the line and stuck it out for as 
long as they did is a sign of solidarity and determination, for 
sure. Icaza says the economic hit the stores took as a result of 
the strike is a victory for the workers. But let's not forget that 
Safeway and Albertsons are Fortune 50 companies. Safeway 's 
annual revenue (not profit) is larger than the revenues of cor- 
porations like McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo. Who 
truly, tangibly took a hit from the strike is the workforce that 
stayed on the picket line, not the shareholders of the compa- 
nies, or the local union officials who make up to $200,000 
annually. Though Doug Dority said that employers every- 
where got the message "that attempts to eliminate health care 
benefits will come at a high price," that price isn't high 
enough! (For more information on tactical and operational 
lessons learned, see the April 2004 issue of Labor Notes.) 

Many workers and community supporters were dis- 
turbed that so many goods made it onto store shelves during 
the strike. The UFCW didn't put up pickets at the distribution 
centers until over a month into the strike, when the stores 
were already stocked for Thanksgiving, and those pickets 
stayed for only a few weeks. Why this happened isn't exactly 
clear; Icaza says the union waited for the go-ahead from the 
Teamsters, the union representing the workers who drive 
trucks from the distribution centers to the stores, and that 
pickets were removed when the Teamsters' strike funds ran 
out. This situation highlights the lack of coordination 
between the two unions. 

Most of the time, when the distribution centers weren't 
being picketed, truckers drove to the stores and turned their 
engines off near the picket lines instead of parking at the load- 

ing area as they normally do. Some drivers didn't go any fur- 
ther, while others left ignition keys on the seat, allowing man- 
agers or scabs to take the truck the rest of the way. Some 
Teamsters called in sick and showed solidarity with the gro- 
cery workers in other ways. 

"It doesn't matter how much stuff gets into the stores," 
according to Ron Lind of the San Jose local. He is also the 
spokesperson for the UFCW Bay Area Coalition, which repre- 
sents eight locals with contracts expiring September 11, 2004. 

If a union is a structure within which workers build power 
and solidarity together, then efforts to encourage that must 
happen all the time, not just in reaction to a particular negoti- 
ation period. The work of a union is to defend the immediate 
interests of the workers, but even within this limited framework 
they didn't deliver. The excuse that they were unprepared for 
the fight because grocery industry negotiations have always 
been smooth ignores that they had over a year's warning that 
the companies planned something different this time. It also 
reveals huge holes in the union's overaU mission. 

Union, Yes? 

Most unions in this country, including the UFCW, appear to 
be purely on the defensive — struggling to maintain what they 
have, not pushing for more. This is a sad reality. Workers 
make the world go round, while a small, wildly demented, and 
shortsighted elite direct which way it spins. As long as think- 
ing critically about unions and rethinking working-class 
strategies for gaining economic, social, and political power are 
regarded as either anti-union or a handshake with the bosses, 
the working class will suffer from a lack of strategy and vision. 

A labor union is nominally an alliance of workers set up 
to advance the interests of wage earners, and those interests 
can be defined narrowly or broadly. I'd like to see new kinds 
of unions, ones that are understood as organizational bodies 
from which workers not only build power to determine wages 
and benefits and to ensure safe working conditions, but also 
that function as power bases in alliance with the communities 
in which workers live. As it is now, a clear dichotomy exists 
that asks us all to see our lives in at least two parts — as work- 
ers, and then separately as people living our lives. In that sep- 
aration, we lose power. If we look at our work and ask, "What 
purpose does this job serve?" and "Does this job support the 
development of the kind of world I would like to live in?" we 
will often find that we are working against ourselves. This 
realization can help us determine how to focus our collective 
energies not just on immediate needs, but on long-term 
visions as well. 

There are many repetitive, dangerous, and meaningless 
jobs that serve only to maintain the capitalist system while 
creating inequality and destroying the environment. Unions 
today don't address how the narrowness of their struggles 
actually works against the people they claim to represent. 
When workers' struggles focus only on specific working con- 



ditions, keeping their immediate work interests separate from 
all other interests, they actually reinforce the system that 
enslaves them. 

A lot of important work doesn't get done, while a lot of 
destructive work does. Teachers and nurses are being laid off 
everywhere, not because we need them less but because there 
is less profit in caring than in killing. Creating sustainable 
food systems; ratcheting up the development of new energy 
systems; developing more options for recycling and reusing 
"waste"; facilitating the spread of new and old practices for 
revitalizing polluted water, air, and soil; designing more pub- 
lic space for arts, education, and recreation — these are all 
endeavors that a visionary society might choose to undertake. 

But as working-class people, we don't have conversations 
about the value or the appropriateness of the work we do, nor 
is it in the interest of unions in their current forms to pro- 
mote these conversations. At their (rare) best, union decisions 
are made democratically, participation by the rank and file is 
high, and workers make gains on the job. At their (all-too- 
common) worst, none of this is true, and instead unions like 
the UFCW seem to purposefully work against even the 
immediate interests of workers. 

At first glance it may seem paradoxical, but unions have 
more in common structurally with the bosses than the work- 
ers. Neither would make money if not for the workers, and 
both rely on the predictability of the workforce in order to 
maintain their positions. Just as employers aren't interested in 
workers gaining the collective power needed to make changes 
to the current set-up, neither are unions, because they lose 
credibility as workers act outside the established protocols. A 
really organized group of workers is likely to come up with its 
own demands and tactics, which would create problems for 
the union officials whose job it is to make sure that workers 
play by the rules. In other words, it's not in the interest of 
union officials for workers to become a strong and unified 
force; it's not in their interest to truly organize the workers. 
-This is easily seen in the UFCW struggle: with all the human 
and material resources at their command, if the UFCW had 
truly wanted to organize workers, they certainly would have. 

The UFCW, and most unions today, attempt to increase 
membership by promising "job security." Not unlike "national 
security" in a capitalist-run world, "job security" is propa- 
ganda. It's a fraud. When the power of unions has been largely 
curtailed by labor laws to the advantage of bosses; when most 
contracts contain no-strike clauses; when the legal way to 
handle an unjust firing or demotion is to file a "grievance" 
that won't find its way through the National Labor Relations 
Board process for years; when, in short, all aspects of the rela- 
tionship between bosses and workers are made predictable 
through the union contract, there can be no promise of job 
security. When companies pick up and leave the country to 
reap the benefits of some other workers' cheaper labor, there 
is no job security. To suggest otherwise is a lie, and yet unions 


do it all the time. 

We could be deciding what's important to us, and what 
we'd like our lives to look and feel like. But instead of talking 
about what work is worth doing for the sustainability and 
health and joy of all life, the discussion is about which jobs we 
want to protect from being mechanized or taken to workers 
across the border; it's about keeping crappy non-union jobs 
out, so we can maintain our often crappy union jobs. No 
wonder union membership continues to diminish — there's so 
little vision, so little connection made to the other aspects of 
our lives. 

70,000 people in southern California experienced a long 
strike and all that comes with it. Those workers saw their 
bosses and their union in action. The vast majority of them 
had probably never been involved in anything like it, and 
many say they were changed by it. People tasted solidarity and 
felt the hierarchies of class like never before. Craig Bagne, 
from a Manhattan Beach Ralphs store, tells a story about a 
box boy who was a troublemaker on the picket line. "A union 
representative and I were on our way to another store and we 
asked the box boy to come with us. The union rep told him if 
he wasn't willing to fight then to get out of here. Weeks later, 
he began to show up at rallies, then he wanted the bullhorn, 
and after that he was out there leading the charge. It's incred- 
ible to see people change.... a box boy, a natural born leader." 

What kind of organizing will bring the "box boy leader" 
and the rest of us working-class folks into strong, strategic, 
and visionary movements that work together to up-end the 
system? Are there ways to change unions and make them 
strong advocates and organizing bodies for all working-class 
concerns? Or do we need to scrap them altogether and create 
new organizations with new ideas and strategies? Or is doing 



some of both the answer? What we largely have now in the 
labor movement is not just bad leadership, but institutional 
stagnation and backwardness. The world has changed a great 
deal since trade unionism began, and a reassessment of 

unions is overdue. I hope it starts by discussing our visions of 
what we want our lives and our communities to look like. 

Because of our commitment to 

Fresh Organics Inc. nas deaded to initiate a 

'J^m-^i/jm^ process 0B6TiWf^(^ the shopping 

experience ^nd^^mg^^ the produc. mn. 

Fresh Organics Inc. sincerely Dc^SH'f^HeA DAMi for 

the INCOZWENIEN^I and we in^rke you to 

continue shopping at .^ other locations. 

For more Information Call 

OUR Ar0f?(\JFi 


5843 Geary Blvd., San Francisco 1023 Stan. , Street, San Francisco 

Neighborhood protests in San Francisco's Noe Valley have met the closing of a local organic food market with steady opposition. 

iuO Caledoni.iaiPBHB .Wilo (Marin County) 



AC Transit 

my name is 

thank you 

my name is 

thank you 

my badge number is 12549 
thank you 

you don't know what I feel 
thank you 

you laid me off 

thank you 

laid me off 

thank you 

you let the people down 
thank you 

you with your big job 
thank you 

big house big car 

thank you 

you chop off one hand 
thank you 

want me to do my job with the 
thank you 

you hurting morale 
thank you 

you laid off my girl 
thank you 

she come to live with me 
thank you 

I can't refuse OT 

thank you 

I got to feed the grandbaby 
thank you 

we need our service back 
thank you 

we need it all over the place 
thank you 

we need service people 
thank vou 

we public servants 
thank you 

stop cutting the bus 
thank you 

stop laying people off 
thank you 

stop doing this 

thank you 

I need to be at work 
thank you 

we need our jobs 

thank you 

my name is John 

thank you 

my name is Sequoia 
thank you 

my name is Celeste 
thank you 

you laying off mechanics 
thank you 

that's a disgrace 

thank you 

that's a death warrant 
thank you 

those buses can't stop 
thank you 

those buses don't work 
thank you 

those buses filthy 

thank you 

I invite you to come down 
thank you 

I invite you to ride my bus 
thank you 

I work from 9 to 7 
thank you 

what you hearing today 
thank you 

we hear everyday 

thank you 

we hear complaints 
thank you 

we hear it all the time 
thank you 

old people can't get out 
thank you 

young people can't get home 
thank you 

we hear it all the time 
thank you 

you not respecting 
thank you 

when I speak to you 
thank you 

you not respecting 
thank you 

your face is down 

thank you 

your mind made up 
thank you 

you looking down 
thank you 

I'm talking 

thank you 

you not listening 

thank you 

you ain't looking 

thank vou 


BY Summer Brenner 

this bus company going down 
thank you 

20 years ago it was something 
thank you 

20 years ago we be proud 
thank you 

you give us something to serve 
thank you 

we serve it 

thank you 

now we got nothing 
thank you 

this company going down 
thank you 

it's on the record 

thank you 

it's on the record 

thank you 

the way you do 

thank you 

I'm voting you out 
thank you 

you going down 

thank you 
thank you 
thank you 
thank you 




The Penguin Nine were looking pretty royal in their robes 
The sun looked on, down in the land of Jeb and orange groves 

As spitbaDs flew and squeezes squeezed and fair was foul, until 
A sour pulp was all we had to chase the bitter pill 

Southpaw Al had been called out but we'd all seen him slide 
The jersey that the ump wore looked just like the other side's 

Al lodged a feeble protest, so the Nine put on a show 

They belted out the Banner song then murdered Hit the Road 

A different kind of game began. Big Dick cried "Plaay Cabal!" 
The dogs of war, boys, would not hunt, Humpty tried to stall 

He fell like Humpties always do, the dogs are barking now 
They bark for me, they bark for you, but Casey can't be found 

Mr. Ghast's Letter 

You were a silent movie 

a boxed dialogue 

a touchless day 

we never recovered from your illness. 

Sputnik, the fantastic four, 

what weight a hummingbird; 

a flag, a test pattern 

the anthem and the hush of broadcast snow 

the dilemma of negotiations: 
we would set fire to silence 
or die in another's sleep. 

It was a long time ago; 

words have a different purpose now 

and anyone can write about fire 

Non citizen. 

Anti citizen. 

the heart, the fracture point in this 

the knot of icy ribbons winding through glass 

the path through these woods opening like a 
burning book 

you know the story, as tragic and fragile 
as Claire Bloom in the limelight 
dancing before the painted forest 

but I heard it differently 
a still thing living so passionately 
it spontaneously combusts 
burning down to paper silence 
yet living to tell the tale. 

— Raven 

— klipschutz 




Battleships, the Jaws of Life, pizza ovens. . . 
Even on the bridge, who thinks of Steel? 

The epic forge, the poetry of slag, 
Henry )., a Kaiser of our own. 

Refrigerators, scaffolding, safe deposit boxes. . . 
Container ships that clear the Golden Gate at low tide. 

So this is what, a scavenger hunt? a phonic barge? 
A Johann Cougar Mellencamp libretto? 

O Danny Boy, Pete's Sake, The Love Of Mike: 
Made things we don't anymore. 

Others do. Tariff Man found God 
And lost his superpowers overnight. 

— klipschiitz 


Rejoice People of Iraq 

The President of the United States 

has announced he will erect 

a prison to be proud of, demolishing 

the old with its unreconstructed past. 

He never said expressly, precisely, 

he will empty the old prison first, 

so best stay clear of its iron fist embrace. 

(Assumption is the province of the Lord.) 

If he says he moves with a swagger 

called walking in Texas, our man 

who means every last word 

he can't quite pronounce: it is so. 

He will build you your own Alamo. 

US War Makers 

Never lie 

On the Installation 

OF A Porcelain Crown 

When the artificial 
replaces the real 
you feel diminished 
yet improved. 

—William Talcott 

Except When Their Lips Move 

The Ripple Effect 

During my youth as a cyst 
time passed without accent. 

Now, as a mature tapeworm 

I often find myself swimming upstream. 

— William Talcott 


Six days after the reins were passed 
to the sovereign Interim Cabinet, 
Fourth of July was observed, 
Mom, apple pie & Jesus, 
hotdogs & fireworks 
above Saddam Hussein's 
hometown of Tikrit. 

— klipschutz 


so boss if communism 
wuz the god that failed 
iz capitalism the dog 
boss that plays strip poker 
& bares red gums white fangs 
when he runs out of fur to show? 

— klipschutz 

Toward the End 

Toward the end of my second childhood 
the soft-spot returned. 

—William Talcott 




Primitivo Morales 

course, half the time I would tell you it's horrible. On balance, since I sometimes refer to the company 

as "we," it is apparently a good enough job to seduce my on-and-off allegiance. 

I am, in essence, a glorified file clerk: a Database Administrator, or DBA. Actually, my business card calls me a "Database 
Engineer" but I think that's either wishful thinking on the part of my employers or one of those "title-instead-of-money" deals. 
My job is to keep track of a lot of information — no different than any other clerk's tasks. 

Traditional file clerks usually only deal with small 
amounts of documents — a few hundred thousand, maybe. 
The Pentagon devised a unit of measurement called a "linear 
drawer foot" — one foot of closely packed documents — to 
describe the total capacity of some of their stores of docu- 
ments, which even in the 1970s were measured in miles. The 
principles remain the same — be able to find "stuff" quickly. 

A vague analogy can be made with pilots on combat mis- 
sions; long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of 
terror. OK, my terror is not for my life but the principle 
remains the same. For example, about once a week I am "on 
call," meaning computers that I have never seen send me mes- 
sages about problems I don't understand. I have a list of 
instructions to follow which mostly resolves the issues. Most 
of the problems can be passed on to someone else — network- 
ing issues, for instance. But others become "mine" and we 
then enter into an intimate relationship, the problem and I. So 
far I have resolved, or at least explained away, all of these. But 
one day I may be handed a problem I can't solve and then the 
company will replace me with someone who can. 

Busy doing what, you might ask ? Or does it really mat- 
ter? The conditions I am describing exist throughout the 
industry from Silicon Valley through "Silicon Gulch" (Austin) 
all the way to the 128 corridor around Boston, and for all I 
know, all the way to Mumbai. The 'product' is of little impor- 
tance, as long as it makes a profit. 

A goodly portion of my work for many years is best 
summed up as "helping businessmen count money faster and 
more accurately" (I've worked in banks and for VISA, among 
other esteemed handlers of currency). This is the core of most 
computer professionals' jobs, at least in the "applications" 
world; people who make operating systems and other tools 
are more akin to workers who make the machine tools that 
companies like GM use to make cars. 

And we do indeed have a "product" — pictures. We sell aer- 
ial and satellite imagery both from a web site and on CD/DVD. 
The company does not produce the images — they are bought 
or rented from companies that have satellites or fly the aircraft 
that take the pictures. My job is making sure that when some 
client (an architect, a district attorney, a city planner, a "hi-tech" 

worker in India digitizing maps of roads, etc.) looks at a picture 
of some sagebrush outside of Phoenix, we know how much 
money we got for it, and that the proper cut goes to the owner 
of the image ("Royalty Check, honey" in Frank Zappa's words). 
At peak we produce about 25 images a second, which can work 
out to a lot of companies accumulating absurdly small 
amounts of money (forty percent of one-third of one-half 
cent). But hey, no amount of money is absurd, it adds up, right? 

There are interesting contradictions in this product. We 
spend more computer time (which may in a sense be equated 
with money) making a large image than a small one, so the 
company likes to charge by size. Sensible enough, as far as it 
goes. But whenever someone looks at our imagery — whether 
browsing or just window-shopping — we splash a logo over it 
to make it worthless for resale. In so doing we "burn quite a 
few cycles," i.e. spend computer time to add the watermarks. 
Of course, sometimes there is a charge for nothing at all; we 
charge extra money to show little lines with text — represent- 
ing roads, for instance — because it takes additional cycles to 
figure what roads are in the area, but if you use this feature 
and draw an image of a place with no roads, you still get 
charged — knowing that nothing is there is information, too. 

I get paid well — about twice the median income of peo- 
ple in the San Francisco area; when I was hired three years ago 
it was on the upper side of wages for comparable work; with 
no raises since then my real income has decreased by a meas- 
urable percentage. Bonus ? You get to keep working next year 
(actually, I was given a Christmas bonus for 2003 — $100.00!). 
The dollar amount disguises the long hours — lots of our work 
needs to be done at night at home because the computers are 
less busy and we will cause less disruption to paying clients. 
On the other hand, management never can trust the worker 
to work, so we all have to spend 25-1- hours at our desks just so 
they can see and feel reassured. People commute from the 
Central Valley — Modesto and Tracy for instance — and are 
spending hours driving back and forth when they could be 
working; a terrible loss to business. It is a rare week that any 
of us logs less than 50 hours; some tend more towards the 70-(- 
work week. Perhaps not coincidentally, there were major lay- 
offs in spring 2002^-one-third of the company. Since I 



Treehugger? • Suicide Bomber? • Outside Agitator? 

started, no less than half of the jobs have been eliminated with 
a few new hires in sales. 

In the past week, as I write this, my boss has quit. 
Apparently the thinking (if you can call it that) was that her 
job would get spread over two other people and there would 
be no impact on delivery dates or site performance. On her 

last day there was a clash between her sidekick (the head of 
operations per se, and a very knowledgeable fellow) and man- 
agement. Sometime between 10:30 and noon he was removed 
from email and had his accounts shut off. The rest of us 
responded by drinking rum for the remainder of the day. It 
will be interesting to see if management continues its policy 



of reality denial and fantasy. As least part of their psychosis is 
the belief that software, and the workforce that produces it, is 
standardized in the same way automotive parts have been. 
Interchangeability is not simple in the world of computers, or 
at least outside of the assembly lines that produce the hard- 
ware itself. The creation of programs is much more like the 
craft industries of the mid-nineteenth century. In the mean- 
time, the rest of us are busy trying to do our jobs as well as 
covering for others. 

My stock in trade, as it were, is not the imagery itself — 
some 25-30 terabytes 1 of highly compressed imagery in all. 
My interest is information about the images — their spatial 
coordinates, when they were taken, their origin. The databases 
contain detailed maps of every block of every road in the 
United States. I'm responsible for moving the data around, 
keeping it backed up and making sure it's available when 
needed. Clerical work at its 

In addition to the admin- 
istrative chores there is a con- 
stant pressure from a source 
familiar to any reader of 
Capital — the foremost mecha- 
nism by which the industrial- 
ists make more money is by 
renovating their plants, 
whether by upgrading or by 
discarding old ones in favor of 
new ones. And so it is in the 
computer shop, supposedly so 
far from the industrial revolu- 
tion — "silicon" is our avatar, 
not iron. 

And yet, curiously, the 
machines themselves are some- 
times referred to as "iron" — as 
in "heavy iron," meaning fast 
computers. They are called, 
again an echo of earlier rela- 
tionships, "servers" and are kept in "cages" (because they are 
dangerous?) on a "farm" in Silicon Valley. I've never been to 
our cage, but I've seen photos. It is a chain-link cage in a large 
building run by some corporate giant. While we are isolated 
in cubicles, our machines are kept on racks connected to each 
other (and us) with cables, "switches" and "routers" (special- 
ized computers that move data) — even the simple drawings of 
our "architecture" are complex. 

But having gotten it to work is not enough, we have to 
replace various bits and pieces. Because of changes in hard- 
ware (out go the leased Sun servers, in come the purchased 
Dell servers), software (Linux instead of Solaris, mostly) and 
applications (postGres, an Open Source database, replacing 
Informix, now owned by IBM; old image servers that 






depended on expensive licensed "libraries" being replaced by 
new code written in-house, etc.) we have been spending a lot 
of time replacing almost every component while it is running. 
Imagine changing almost everything on your car except the 
chassis and the license plate while driving down the freeway. 
At work we use the analogy of driving down a freeway, 
almost always in the context of driving by looking only in the 
rear-view mirror. We are constantly monitoring the site but 
from a certain distance. Billing issues tend to take a day to be 
seen, while our computer monitors show nice graphs that are 
only a few minutes out of date at any given instant. To really see 
what is happening takes actual people. And when something 
unexpected (i.e. unpleasant) is happening, four or five or more 
of us will be communicating by voice, phone, email and instant 
message, sometimes simultaneously. After a frantic spasm of 
intensely cooperative work we return to our usual tasks. 

The daily work is itself 
intensely collaborative, yet also 
curiously alienated. Each of us 
has a focus; the operations 
people deal with various 
aspects of the site as a whole, 
the content people set up new 
imagery, programmers work 
on different aspects of the soft- 
ware, quality assurance tests 
and retests things. This is not a 
company in which the bosses 
or managers don't have a 
clue — my boss knew her stuff, 
and the head of the company, 
although not primarily a com- 
puter geek, certainly knows the 
remote sensing/GIS 

(Geographic Information 
Systems) business well. Ergo, 
mistakes are hard to cover up. 
As the DBA I need to "work 
closely with" (i.e. get ordered 
around by) virtually everyone in the company, from account- 
ing and sales, programmers and ops people. Even my boss and 
the CEO occasionally give me direct tasks. 

There is the usual grousing about conditions common to 
most workplaces. Yet there is no feeling of solidarity, even 
among the people I have the most in common with (shared 
interest in jazz, or cooking, etc.). There's a shared inaction 
based in part in the sense that there's nothing we can do and 
in part on a lack of trust. Confronted with the inexorable logic 
of business and cost containment, the ideology of "profes- 
sionalism" becomes paralyzing. Professionalism means quite a 
few things — a vaguely positive attitude is a must, and a posi- 
tive disdain for direct confrontation is mandatory. We adopt 
the common face and voice to discuss the "problems" — all of 



which have been specified before we confront them and as 
such have already had all possible solutions defined before we 
even see them. 

In one of the odd contradictions of such a "professional" 
environment, we are treated with a certain degree of respect, 
but we're all expendable. Even as we watch one of our people 
hustled out the door after a summary layoff, the most we 
might do is have a sotto-voce discussion, usually with a friend 
of the departed. 

My attitude is not the best, and I've been officially 
warned that the only reason I am still employed is because 
everyone who works with me thinks I do a stellar job. The 
problem? Apparently an anonymous someone has taken 
offense at some of my emails or IM sessions — no serious vul- 
garities but perhaps a mild expletive or two. That's enough, 
along with management's irritation at my continuous asking 
of the old utilitarian "qui bono?" (whose good — who bene- 
fits?) when confronted with stupid decisions. We get more 
and more of those, as the company is owned by a real estate 
company whose computer types are particularly clueless — 
they like to put "MSCE" after their names . . . bragging about 
being a Microsoft Certified Engineer! 

So people show a certain wariness in endorsing my opin- 
ions now, at least in public; it is not unusual for people to sup- 
port me privately, after the fact. Although not allowed to 
formally question some business decisions, I can at least greet 
them with all the warmth that they deserve. Not much of a 

But the battle is not necessarily totally one-sided. A slight 
plus in our column as workers in the software industry is that 
the process is not well rationalized — not "Taylorized." It is 
very hard to predict how long a given (non-trivial) software 
project will take even for people who know the tools and 
problem well. There are no easy methods for determining 
productivity — counting key strokes works for typists but not 
for programmers — and because the problems are often ill- 
defined, we can sometimes get time back from the job, help 
each other by passing the buck on responsibilities and cover- 

ing for each other. Such small actions do help build the sense 
of trust, or at least of common ground, that is a prerequisite 
for more meaningful solidarity. 

We also have a shared interest in reliable tools and 
processes, and the advent of Open Source software — typically 
software whose "source-code" (original instructions, as 
opposed to a "compiled" program) is available to all. There 
are usually groups of people committed to a given tool who 
work collaboratively for its improvement, even though they 
may never meet. Applications that are available include 
graphics manipulation programs, office tools like spreadsheet 
and word processor, operating systems and HTML servers 
such a Linux or Apache, programs for creating maps or plot- 
ting spatial data, databases and so on. Because the people who 
create tools have an inherent interest in them there is little 
need for an incomplete or flawed version of the software to be 
released simply to meet a schedule. Problems tend to be well- 
documented and discussed, as opposed to the corporate 
model, where issues are often hard to discover because of 
non-disclosure contracts and company perversity. The pro- 
grams themselves sometimes lack the bells-and-whistles of 
commercial products, but because the source code is available 
it can be extended or modified, and there are many people to 
help with support issues. 

As a programmer I gain a better tool; as a person I am 
sharing in something that has an end result other than some 
money. It also helps to undermine the arrogant behemoths 
such as Microsoft and Oracle. The company gets quality soft- 
ware without having to pay endless license fees. One source of 
tension though, is that the company is benefiting from other 
organization paying to develop software (the spatial data tool 
we use was developed by a Canadian company paid by the 
Canadian government, which did not want to continue to pay 
large fees to US companies). Yet my bosses are agonized when 
faced with the need to spend a small amount of money to 
improve the tool — some other business might be able to bene- 
fit from this money! Amazingly short sighted — spend a few 
thousand to save a few hundred thousand dollars, and then 



whine about it. 

Recent events give me more of a sense of how my co-work- 
ers regard the company. A few months ago we were subjected to 
a company- wide survey conducted by a consultant using a web 
site. They claimed that all answers would be confidential, but 
the way we logged in guaranteed that they could track who had 
said what. So I suspect that the answers they got were slanted in 
the company's favor. On the last possible day I answered most 
of the questions, mosdy honestly, after my then-boss got in my 
face about her group's low participation rate. 

Afterwards, corporate sent a person from "Human 
Resources" to explain (away) the results. We were generally in 
line with the company on most of the survey but had responses 
in two major areas wildly lower than the company averages: 
benefits and company support for us. Now, keep in mind that 
the parent company is in the real-estate business, which has a 
peculiarly exploitative relationship with its workers — real 
estate agents, for instance, typically get only a commission and 
then have to pay money to "their" office to rent a desk, etc. 

In the session I was in, everyone criticized the benefits. 
Sales, engineering and operations all criticized the insurance 
as expensive, "substandard" (this from someone who knows 
the insurance industry) and difficult to use. Everyone had 
harsh words for the "40 IK" plan: 6% is not "matching" the 
employees' contributions, and their proposed scheme actually 
seemed to ignore federal law about limits on employee con- 
tributions. Everyone had critical words for our time-off pol- 
icy as well, again ranging from "illegal" (they don't roll unused 
vacation time over to the new year, nor do they pay you for it) 
to "cheap" and "outrageous." 

The company's pretty words don't ever seem to have any 
money behind them. Fellow employees were not delighted with 
their pay, either, as most have had no raises for years. On paper 
the management supports employee's education, but in prac- 
tice they have no money for technical classes of the sort I might 
need (typically one week with about 40 hours of instruction, 
costing between two and five thousand dollars, depending). We 
actually got this worthy functionary to laugh when, in the 
course of discussing how the company does not give us ade- 
quate support, we told her that our high-tech company gets 
hand-me-downs from a local (bankrupt) school system. 

I am sure that in subsequent surveys we will simply be 
asked if we have been adequately informed about our crappy 
benefits, rather than the more risky ground exposed by the 
open-ended questions. And because the company is actually 
making money now on a month-by-month basis, they may 
actually provide us more of the tools we need to make them 
more money. 

In the short run, however, we've had a Company Meeting 
in which they tried a smoke & mirrors production to pump us 
up — poorly mixed and stale rock tunes played over a slide show 
of company content and tools. This was followed with a pas- 
sionate speech by the president about how hard he had fought 
for us, the ungrateful employees, when the company was sold to 
the tejanos. He pointed out that he had no stock or other vest- 
ing in the parent company, and was an employee just like us. 

This may be true, as far as it goes, but management still is 
in denial: he was frustrated that only thirty percent of our 
projects were delivered on time. Given the sparse resources 
and constantly shifting requirements, doing a third of our 
deliveries on time is an excellent statistic. According to them, 
the problem is "communication" so now we'll spend more 
time in meetings. As one engineer said to me, "I spend 7 hours 
in one day now on meetings — how long until they realize that 
that is seven hours that I am not working?" 

We have been put on committees with no power that will 
be able to make recommendations that management will be 
free to ignore; or if they are implemented it will be "at man- 
ager's discretion," a nice way of saying "never." 

It is possible that we can gain some leverage over the sit- 
uation now. It is clear that there is widespread dissatisfaction, 
but what exactly can be done is not clear. Hopes of controlling 
our local bosses are a bit thin; bringing our Texican masters to 
heel is a rather remote possibility. I can't see us actually hav- 
ing a picket line, but I think some combination of working 
only forty hours a week, declining those extra work shifts, and 
perhaps proposing that we all take time off together might 
provide leverage. Or perhaps not — there are no guarantees. 

Well, it's 1:30 in the morning, and I have puzzles to solve 
before I sleep. pw 

1 a terabyte is 1000 gigabytes, a gigabyte is thousand megabytes, and megabyte is 
a million characters, if you care 


Dissatisfaction tends to make itself known, altliougin sometimes in ways tlnat are hard to see. For example, one company that 
makes digital maps of streets found a curious set of lines in some work. The regular QA people had found no problems, but 
there was an automated QA process that examined all of the incoming work, and it applied rules that would be impossible for 
a human: in a computer model of roads there will never be a road segment that is not attached to other segments. Yet in this 
particular batch they found a number of lines attached to nothing else. When they zoomed all the way in they could see these 
lines with no labels or other data, but they made no sense. When they zoomed out to look at the whole US the lines couldn't 
be seen because of the way scaling and zooming work. Eventually they wrote a special filter to show just the lines with no con- 
nections. It made a large sketch of a big "fuck you" with an upraised finger in salute. Alas, these lines were removed before 
the world at large ever saw them, but it makes you wonder what else might be out there. 





Jesse Drew 

I knelt to examine the floor, and there it was, in tiny writing, quite fresh it seemed, scratched 
with a pin or maybe just a fingernail, in the corner where the darkest shadow fell: 

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. 

I didn't know what it meant, or even what language it was in. I thought it might be Latin, 
but I didn't know any Latin. Still, it was a message, and it was in writing, forbidden by that 
very fact, and it hadn't yet been discovered. Except by me, for whom it was intended. It was 
intended for whoever came next. ' 

maid's Tale provides a nightmarish projection 
of where US society is possibly headed, a place 
where communication between two people about 
their common oppression is forbidden. This simple 
message, scratched into the wall of a kitchen cup- 
board, will represent to some the utter futility of 
the protagonist's situation. Yet it also presents the 
potential spark of resistance and the fragile but tri- 
umphant re-emergence of truth. It has been the 
preservation and distribution of many such small 
truths that have shattered many a dictatorship, 
tyranny and autocracy. 

A Public Sphere 

At the root of most conceptions of democracy, lies a very sim- 
ple supposition, that a well-informed public engages on even 
ground in a contestation of ideas within a public sphere of 
communication and media. Vestiges of such ideas live on in 
the New England Town Hall meetings, and within our ideas of 
a free press. 

Today, democracies like to present themselves as harbin- 
gers of a healthy public sphere, with traditions of a free press 
and the free association of citizens. Such window dressing 
seeks to conceal the anemic state of public discourse, particu- 
larly within the United States. The near-monopolization of all 
media by corporate conglomerates, and the paranoiac control 
of information by the State, with its vast Public Relations 
apparatus, its "embedded " reporters, and its system of "offi- 
cial " leaks and disinformation has made a mockery of claims 
to a well-informed citizenry. This corporate/government 
media nexus has locked communications into a one-way 
stream of messages from the centers of power to the periph- 
ery of spectators and audiences. Today an individual's ability 

to compete in the marketplace of ideas is akin to throwing a 
message in a bottle into a vast ocean of corporate and gov- 
ernment entertainment, punditry and infomercials, a 
Huxleyan stew of "feelies, orgy-porgy and centrifugal bum- 
blepuppy. "As Huxley himself said: 

For conditions even remotely comparable to those now pre- 
vailing we must return to imperial Rome, where the popu- 
lace was kept in good humor by frequent, gratuitous doses 
of many kinds of entertainment — from poetical dramas to 
gladiatorial fights, from recitations of Virgil to all-out box- 
ing, from concerts to military reviews and public execu- 
tions. But even in Rome there was nothing like the 
non-stop distraction now provided by newspapers and 
magazines, by radio, television and the cinema. ■ 

Long ago, corporate power, like some kind of 
Frankenstein monster, arose from the dead scrolls of their 
articles of incorporation to become recognized alongside 
average citizens as "individuals" with the same individual 
rights accorded by the Constitution. In today's corporatoc- 
racy, Microsoft Corporation has the same rights as Joe Blow 
from Vermont to persuade the public with their point of view. 
In other words, the law, in its majestic equality, allows 
Microsoft and Exxon the same rights to buy primetime tele- 
vision time and nationwide billboard campaigns as you or I. 

So, is public discourse dead? Are you reading these words 
scratched onto a cupboard wall? Hopefully not yet. Undeniably, 
there is still contested terrain in the mediascape, especially 
within the realm of electronic space. There is a vital tradition of 
independent and alternative media that historically has had 
two primary emphases: one aims at creating new channels of 
independent media, the other aims to expose the complicity of 
mainstream media. This division of labor is still evident within 
new electronic communications. Today's electronic media 
activists seek to create free spaces where information can be 
exchanged and discussed unfiltered and uncensored by power, 
as well as to subvert, expose, and hack away at the veneer of 
objectivity that shrouds corporate media. 



An Electronic Public Sphere 

There has been much discussion in recent years about 
whether the expansion of cyberspace constitutes the creation 
of an electronic public sphere, centered around the Internet. 
In the early years of usenet groups, gopher sites, and on-line 
communities, many envisioned the birth of the nationwide 
town hall meeting, where each individual was equal to any 
other, and where all had equal voice and access to informa- 
tion. According to Benjamin Barber, in a nation the size of the 
U.S. with its great distances, electronic communication can 
assist in facilitating such a grassroots democractic process: 

Once it is understood that the problem of scale is suscepti- 
ble to technological and institutional melioration and that 
political communities are human networks rooted in com- 
munication, scale becomes a tractable challenge rather than 
an insuperable barrier. ' 

This Utopian notion seemed to build steam with the advent of 
the World Wide Web, which allowed anyone to build a simple 
website with a few lines of html code and a couple of gifs. Such 
an opportunity proved irresistible to venture capital, however. 
Society launched headlong into the web-frenzied 
explosion of the late nineties. Within a short time, the .edus and 
.orgs were swallowed in a tidal wave of dot.coms, and the 
Internet was transformed from a decidedly anti-commercial 
space to a one-way commercial shopping platform. 

Now that the wicked witch has melted down, 
perhaps we can begin to sort out what is left behind that still 
suits public discourse. When does electronic media space 
facilitate public discussion and exchange? Numerous exem- 
plary cases and projects abound, from public access on-line 
discussion groups, to activists' networks, to political groups 

Behind such newly emerging online activism, however, lies 
a legacy of radical, prankster and hacker practices that has 
blazed a path for such conventional communications. Some of 
these techno-practices are politically conscious, some uncon- 
scious, and some downright inane, ranging from the poetic to 
the polemical to the pornographic. Some are clearly legal but 
push the law, some are in gray areas, and some are illegal. But 
they fall within the classic traditions of pranksterism, where a 
sense of humor can be razor-sharp, or wielded as a blunt ax. 
The perpetrators are individuals claiming their place within 
public discussion. Such is the messy process of democracy. 

Rapidly advancing technologies are making media pro- 
duction tools increasingly accessible, but channels for deliver- 
ing these messages are increasingly restricted by a tightening 
noose of corporate and governmental control. The 
Committee for Democratic Communications of the National 
Lawyers Guild took on an important legal case, involving the 
opening up of FM radio frequencies to community-based 
Low Power FM radio broadcasters. Their position was ulti- 
mately upheld by the courts and even the FCC: 

Although "full and free discussion " of ideas may have been 
a reality in the heyday of political pamphleteering, modern 
technological developments in the field of communications 
have made the soapbox orator and the ieafletter virtually 

This decision helps to open a front in the electronic commu- 
nications realm for real two-way exchange, since it effectively 
argued that to communicate electronically is a fundamental 
right of all citizens. 

There have been few attempts to unif/ activities such as 
hacking, pranking and culture jamming. They spring from 
the same desire to have public input into a closed communi- 
cations system. In the U.S., we have substituted a system of 
mass communications for the public sphere. This has elimi- 
nated pubhc discussion in favor of the mass reception of mes- 
sages from the centers of power. In an age of ruthless 
confiscation of public space, prankster forays into the medi- 
ascape are increasingly popular. The synthesis of humor, graf- 
fiti-writing, technical showmanship, grassroots activism and 
the DIY punk rock aesthetic appear in many of these media 
interventions. Rather than being mere background noise to 
cultural, social and political life, these practices represent a 
common effort to reshape the climate of ideas in the U.S. 

Two main divisions in "technopranksterism" reflect two 
primary camps of media activism — those working to build 
alternative channels of information and those who focus on 
disrupting corporate media. I refer to these two areas respec- 
tively as "New Electronic Spheres " and "Breaking the Fa(;ade." 

Microscopic grafitti etched in silicon wafers, only visible through 
an electron microscope 



Breaking the Fa^de 

It is hard to ignore that we are subject to a mind-numbing 
barrage of commercial messages, pubhc relations ploys, polit- 
ical spin and other modern propaganda techniques. 
"Breaking the Facpade " refers to the types of hijinks that chip 
away at the smooth veneer of these manipulative practices. 
Whether consciously or unconsciously, Dadaism, Surrealism 
and the Situationists contributed to the ways electronic 
pranksters expose the fallacy of mainstream media objectiv- 
ity, corporate responsibility, and the benevolence of the State, 
often while violating our "common decency"! 

Photoshop Pranks (The Jackalope Tradition) 

These images follow within a grand tradition of Tall Tales and 
satire, a blend of tongue-in-cheek and cut-and-paste, fre- 
quently mixed with dark sense of humor. Often designed by 
creative but bored office workers, these images proliferate on 
the distribution model created from a loose network that arose 
primarily to share jokes via Xerox and fax machines. With the 
massive and instantaneous distribution offered by the Internet, 
this material takes on greater significance. At times, even the 
mainstream media steps in to "set the record straight." 

Labor Traces 

The desire for one's labor and creative effort to be recognized is 
a long-standing one, going back to early craft workers who 
branded or initialized metal work, pottery or woodwork. In an 
era of global labor, where pieces of labor come from disparate 
corners of the globe to be assembled and mass- marketed, indi- 
vidual recognition for work is almost non-existent. This is par- 
ticularly true in the software and entertainment industries, 
where the name Disney or Microsoft subsumes the creative tal- 
ent of tens of thousands of workers. There is evidence of leav- 
ing traces of one's individuality in much of these products, 
however. Some, like "permission " walls for graffiti, are let past 
the gate. Others surface later, often to the embarrassment of the 

Fair Use Versus Copyright Infringement 

Where culture is increasingly trademarked, and all life seems 
to be "branded, " it is only natural that many people want to 
speak back to the "LOGO." When we live in a media environ- 
ment saturated by advertising and brands, these icons and 
symbols become just part of the environment, and fair game 
for commentary. In an era when corporate power has sur- 
passed State power, these logos become political and ideolog- 
ical symbols, not just stand-ins for products. Besides, many 
members of the public are increasingly incensed at seeing 
their own culture stolen from them, to be repackaged and 
sold at the mall. Copyright infringement may be your greatest 
entertainment value, but it is increasingly litigious one. 

Web Hacks 

Outright webhacks range from focused political education to 

An infamous "flashing " frame embedded in a Disney film. 

electronic grafitti. Sometimes the work can only be described 
as vandalism. Because the perpetrator must crack security 
and surreptitiously replace files on servers, this type of prac- 
tice gets much publicity on account of its illegality. Regardless 
of the swapped content, the result of such intrusion is what I 
like to call the "Wizard of Oz " effect, in that they puncture the 
omnipotent strength of the victims. Who would know that 
the all powerful CIA, FBI, Pentagon and Department of 
Justice would have their ankles bitten by the teenage Totos of 
the hacker underground. I would argue that these frequent 
attacks have substantially degraded the once powerful images 
of these organizations. 

Disney characters zoom by a stripper in a window in another 
embedded Disney cartoon. 



Google Hacks 

There are certain other hacks, which are less illegal, but effec- 
tive in delivering satirical answers to rhetorical questions. 
Google hacks direct questioners on the popular Google search 
site to phony error pages, that usually provide a humorous 
response to the question. News of these hacks are often 
relayed along the same distribution networks used by 
Photoshop pranks, circulated among networks of friends and 
colleagues, prompting the right question to ask. Probably not 
too many people would ordinarily go to Google and type in 
"miserable failure " and click the I'm Feeling Lucky button, 
and bring up the website of George W. Bush. 

False Websites, simulations and general disinformation 

Following in the parody and satire vein, disinformation web- 
sites remain very popular and outrageous to those parodied. 
Since the web began, grabbing a website in the typical first- 
come, first-served way proved a convenient way to humiliate 
the party that was too slow to grab their own domain. 
(, for example) To add insult to injury, these 
sites usually imitate the object of satire, and serve to confuse 

m J 


1* - .■ , , ,> t^ 

z, .i., r 

^ m 

- » 

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' 1 



Tali-tubby and the "recovered film " hoax filled millions of e-mail 
boxes in the weeks after 9-11. 

and agitate innocent visitors to these sites. Powerful interests 
are now trying to roll these sites back, however, by tying 
domain names into laws around copyright infringement. 

New Spheres of Discussion 

The friendly accompaniment to "Breaking the Facade " is the 
creation of new spaces for the firee exchange of information 
and discussion. Incredibly frustrating to official gatekeepers 
of information in the powerful media chains and in the State 
Department, this is one of the most promising developments 
of the Internet. Truth often begins to emerge here, before 
gaining a critical mass of believers. At this point, mass media 
often wades in with its spin, to avoid the embarrassment of 
being left far behind on an issue everyone is talking about. 

Public Files 

One of the truly hopeful things about the web is that citizens 
can publish original documents, images and evidence, entire 
original sources un-filtered by mass media. This has led to 
some truly spectacular results. Recent publishing adventures 
include damning files from cigarette companies detailing 
their targeting of youth, recent documents on the instability 
of software for electronic voting, and health risks of eating at 
McDonald's. This type of activity is probably the most fright- 
ening for powerful interests, because they allow hard data out 
for anyone to make up their own minds, and bypass "spin " 
put on the issues by PR and the media. Legality is often ques- 
tioned, as sometimes theft is involved, but it seems clearly for 
now to be protected First Amendment activity. 

Peer to Peer 

Peer-to-peer technologies have transformed the way files are 
shared, a decentralized activity that allows for random on- 
demand sharing of data. This enormously popular phenome- 
non is creating a new culture of mutual respect and 
responsibility, for it depends upon leaving ones computer 
folders available for public sharing, an anathema to corporate 
interests who have worked so hard to commodify informa- 
tion. Such files often consist of full-frame motion video clips, 
books, music, graphic arts and other cultural work. Such 
sharing is opening up a world of media to many people who 



would otherwise not have access to these resources. 
Internet Activism and List Servs 

E-mail must certainly be considered among the most power- 
ful tools available for opening up public discussion, particu- 
larly among the burgeoning supply of dedicated list-servs 
available to join. For a great number of environmental, labor, 
cultural and other activist groups, this simple form of com- 
munication is allowing an unprecedented volume of one-to- 
one conversation. Although sprouting from the original 
model built around usenet groups, e-mail listservs bring reg- 
ular information and action requests from like-minded indi- 
viduals and organizations. 

Blogging the Night Away 

An increasingly popular media activity is the "blog " or web 
log that offers instant reportage and opinion directly and 
instantaneously from the writer to the on-line audience. 
"Blogging " allows information to travel unfiltered to a limit- 
less audience, acting as a textual witness to events both earth- 
shattering as well as banal, from Iraqi battlefields to 
Hollywood gossip. Increasingly seen as the raw truth, blogs 
have started to pull the mainstream media around by the 
nose, as it outscoops and out-maneuvers the slower moving 
journalistic institutions. 

Though the speed at which bloggers post their comments 
often sacrifices fact-checking, the proven reliability of many 
blogs has proven disastrous to official spin-meisters, censors 
and those who prefer to control the flow of information. 

frame from Phil Pateris' Iraq Campaign 

The Way Forward 

ultimately, what is the impact of such activities? While some 
pundits like to dismiss it all as the trivial work of isolated indi- 
viduals, I believe that the total effect of technopranks is hav- 
ing a substantial impact on public life, with benefits ranging 
from opening up raw documents directly to the public, to 
questioning and satirizing powerful interests, to deflating the 
omnipotent power of corporations and government, to build- 
ing horizontal links between millions of people. Information, 
however, is not necessarily power, but must somehow be 
translated into action. That is the challenge of our age. pw 

1 Atwood, M. ( 1986). The Handmaid's Tale. NY; Anchor Books, p. 52. 

2 Huxley, A. ( 1 965. ) Brave New World Revisited. NY: Harper Row. p, 29. 

3 Barber, B. ( 1 984 ) . Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age. 
Berkeley: University of California, p. 247. 

frame from Jesse Drew Manifestoon 




James Tracy 

THANKSGIVING MORNING 2003. At the intersec- 
tion of 30th and Mission an odd assortment of 
humanity gathered — even by San Franciscan stan- 
dards. Homeless famihes, most with strollers in 
tow, cautiously mingled with trade union activists. 
College students tried out their Spanish on Latino 
day laborers. Street punks, checked out the non- 
profit workers with a sneer that acknowledged "I'll 
probably be you one day." The crowd of about 140 
had diversity written all over it — elderly and young, 
and enough ethnicity to make even the most jaded 
observer speak about Rainbow Coalitions as if the 
idea was just invented 

five minutes ago. 
Protest signs handed out casu- 
ally read "Let Us In!" below a 
cartoon of a global village 
angry mob. The mood 
remained mellow, maybe 
strangely so for a group of 
people who, in an hour's time 
would be participating in an 
illegal takeover of vacant 
housing; one unit among 
thousands owned by the San 
Francisco Housing Authority 
— the often troubled agency 
that is charged with providing 
homes for the city's most 

Announcements are 

made: the bus chartered to 
bring the protesters to the 
secret takeover site is late, but 
will arrive shortly. The driver of 
the bus had been reached by 
cell phone and reported a 

hangover from which he'd just woken up. He would be stop- 
ping for a strong cup of coffee. Even on Thanksgiving Day, 
there was more than one protest going on in San Francisco. A 
couple of hundred feet away, United Food and Commercial 
Workers members picketed Safeway in the ongoing battle over 
the company's attempts to do away with healthcare benefits. A 
delegation went over to wish the unionists well as one nervous 
housing protester tried to conceal the Safeway logo on her fresh 
cup of coffee. 

The press showed up early to search for a spokesperson, 
played today by Carrie Goodspeed, a twenty-four-year-old 
community organizer with Family Rights and Dignity (FRD), 
part of the Coalition On Homelessness. She's nervous at first 
but then relaxes. "The Authority owns over one thousand 
units of vacant housing that could be used to house families. 
We will risk arrest to make this point." 

"Is this the right thing to 
do?" blurted one reporter. 
There's silence and an expres- 
sion on Godspeed's face of 
someone with second 
thoughts. Suddenly that 
expression disappears. 

"Definitely. It's the right 
thing to do." 

TAKEOVER! The cara- 
van consisting of five autos, 
some bikes and the long- 
awaited bus arrived at the tip 
of the West Point Housing 
Development. Banners in the 
windows proclaim: "HOMES 
STREETS." The dwelling was 
opened up the night before by 
a team of members of FRD, 
Homes Not Jails (HNJ), and 




other assorted individuals. Some were there to pressure the 
SFHA into rehabilitating the vacant units and have a very 
politically correct Thanksgiving. Homeless people added 
another thoroughly practical aspect: "If I get busted, I sleep 
inside. If I don't, I sleep inside," one person remarked. 

A speakout commenced in front of the building. Camila 
Watson, a resident of the development took the microphone. 
Watson is one of the reasons this action landed here — due to 
her outreach most of the neighbors are reasonably supportive. 

When Watson was homeless, she turned for help to Bianca 
Henry of FRD, one of the women occupying the apartment. 
Watson's name had "disappeared" from the SFHA's waiting list. 
Extremely aggressive advocacy on Henry's part, coupled with a 
clever media event the previous year, had helped the agency to 
"find" Watson and offer her a place to live. 

"I used to come by here and think 'Why can't I live in 
apartment 41, or 45, or 47. Give me paint and a hammer and 
I'll fix it up." With housing, other good things have come to 
pass. Watson now holds down a job, and is doing well at City 
College. The experience left her determined to fight for those 
still stuck in the shelter system. 

"They say these units are vacant because people don't 
want to live here. I haven't met a mother yet that wouldn't 
move here over the streets and the shelter." 

Another woman told a story of how her homelessness 
began the day the government demolished the public housing 
development she lived in, and reneged on promises for replace- 
ment housing for all tenants. One resident remarked how she 
feared taking homeless family members into her home, since 
her contract with the SFHA made that act of compassion an 
evictable offense. A young poet named Puff spoke in a style that 
was equal parts poetry slam, evangelical and comical. By the 
end of her microphone time she managed to connect home- 
lessness, minimum-wage work, consumerism, police abuse, 
war and genocide. From someone with less passion and less 
street experience, it might have been indulgent. From Puff, it 
.was a clear-eyed ghetto manifesto, and a call to arms. 

The San Francisco Labor Chorus rallied the group in rous- 
ing renditions of post-revolutionary holiday favorites such as 
"Budget La-La-Land," stretched to fit "Winter Wonderland," 
and "Share the Dough," set to the tune of "Let It Snow". At first 
the very white group of trade unionists seemed a little out of 
place in the projects. 

As many neighbors stopped by, a trio of young men came 
down the hill. 

"Is that where the homeless people are going to live?" the 
tallest one asked. 

"We hope so!" yelled Bianca Henry from the second floor 

"How many rooms?" 

"Three!" Henry replied. 

The youngest looking of the three flashed a smile gleem- 
ing with gold caps "Happy Thanksgiving, yo!" as the trio con- 

tinued down the hill. 

The San Francisco Housing Autliority and Hope VI 

Life as San Francisco's largest landlord and last line of defense 
against homelessness has never been easy. Born in 1940, the 
agency initially housed returning servicemen and their fami- 
lies. Over the years, it has grown to operate over 6,575 units of 
housing and administer another 10,000 units in conjunction 
with other providers. 

In the 1980s then-Secretary of Housing and Urban 
Development Jack Kemp announced the creation of the 
Housing Opportunities For People Everywhere (HOPE) pro- 
gram that would tear down public housing and rebuild it. 
HOPE was intended to get the feds out of housing provision 
by transferring ownership to resident cooperatives. President 
Clinton took most of the hope out of the HOPE program 
(now called HOPE VI) when requirements for resident par- 
ticipation, return, and unit replacement were stricken from 
the federal record. 

In San Francisco the HOPE VI program produced very 
mixed results. When it worked, it worked because tenant 
organizations forced it to work. Some developments lost units 
and the agency's own numbers show that not every former 
tenant made it back to their former neighborhood. Many res- 
idents, some who lived through the "urban removal," of the 
1960s saw the demolition as one more attempt to kick Blacks 
out of town. It was widely believed that then Executive 
Director Ronnie Davis gave free reign to his staff to evict out- 



spoken tenants, forge documents, and take bribes. Davis was 
never convicted of any wrongdoing while in San Francisco, 
but was convicted of embezzling from his former job — the 
Cayahuga Housing Authority in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Today, the SFHA is led by Gregg Fortner, who is regarded 
by most as honest, if a bit inaccessible. Continued federal 
funding cuts have kept vacated units vacant — about 905 
vacant units or 16%, total. To meet the deficit in operating 
costs, the agency requested proposals from both for-profit 
and nonprofit developers to redevelop eighteen properties — 
again raising the specter of displacement — dubbed "The 
Plan" by activists and residents. 

This Town is Headed for a Gliost Town? 

Ted Gullicksen, a co-founder of HNJ, knows how to use a 
bullhorn. Speaking from the broken window he invites the 
press and anyone else to check out the apartment. "It won't 
take thousands of dollars to fix it up." 

Gullicksen, a working-class Bostonian helped to create 
HNJ to add a direct action complement to the San Francisco 
Tenants Union, which he directs. HNJ helps several "survival 
squats" (buildings seized for shelter not protest) in San 
Francisco. 45 Westpoint is a "political squat" used to protest 
the housing crisis, popularize demands, and generally raise a 

This ruckus is usually raised on major holidays, especially 
the very cold ones. San Francisco's press is usually quick to 
broadcast sensationalistic stories about homeless people 
using drugs or having mental health episodes in public places. 
Such "journalism" has played a major role in mustering pub- 
lic support for punitive anti-homeless legislation. 

On takeover days, the 
camera is forced to observe 
pictures of homeless people at 
their most powerful, not at 
their most vulnerable. Images 
of poor people and their allies 
repairing broken apartments 
replace one-dimensional 

images of addiction. HNJ spe- 
cializes in the strategic use of a 
slow news day. Throughout the 
day facts, figures and theories 
on homelessness are thrown 
about, yet one message 
remains constant: "Nothing 
about us, without us." 

What about the former residents of 45 Westpoint? What 
happened to them and who were they? The house holds a few 
clues. Stickers on the upstairs bedroom door read "Audrina 
loves Biz." Judging from the demographic of the develop- 
ment, they were likely Black or Samoan. Large plastic "Little 
Tykes" toys left behind suggest a child, probably two. A sewing 


1. Move homeless families into the occupied units 

2. House 200 families in the vacant units by Christmas. 

3. Allow homeless families to rehabilitate the housing in 
exchange to sweat equity rights to live in the housing. 

4. Stop the sell off and hold hearings on The Plan. 

5. Release the developer's proposals immediately. 

6. Build more truly affordable units — don't reduce 
their number 

7. Stop discrimination against homeless families. 

machine, a conch shell and a broken entertainment center 
might be what's left of a ruined family, but who knows? 

What caused their exit? Maybe the family left in response 
to the gang turf wars that periodically erupt on the hill. They 
may have been recipients of the federal "One Strike Eviction," 
Clinton's Orwellian gift to public housing residents. "One 
Strike" passed in 1996, allowing eviction on hearsay for 
crimes committed by an acquaintance. Grandparents have 
been evicted for alleged crimes of grandchildren. A woman in 
Texas lost her home after calling the police to end a domestic 
violence incident in her unit. 

Beyond "Services" 

Bianca Henry surveys the Thanksgiving rebellion with pride, a 
grin playing at her lips. This is the first time she has ever com- 
mitted an act of non-violent direct action. For someone who 
was raised in the projects and knows first-hand the over-reach- 
ing arm of the law, the fact that she is purposely risking arrest 
for the cause is a small, but dramatic personal revolution. 

Henry's pride in her work as an organizer is evident 
throughout. The takeover is part of an ongoing campaign to 
force the SFHA to house and respect families. Together with 
other parents, she has done one of the hardest things a com- 
munity organizer can do: inspire poor people to move beyond 
"Case Management," and "Services," and take things to the next 
level: collective action, risky, scary, but potentially wonderful. 

By design, the action is separated into two zones: the 
Arrest Zone (inside the house) and the Safe Zone (on the 
grass outside). It assumes a social contract with the police to 
respect Arrest and Safe zones. Henry knows first-hand that 
even minor brushes with the law can bring the wrath of the 
C.P.S., I.N.S., P.O.s and PDs 
and various other Big Brother- 
like institutions adept at tear- 
ing families apart. 

Henry knows that if you 
want to get anything done, you 
can't just wait for the next elec- 
tion. She might have been a 
Panther in the 1960s but there's 
a pragmatic streak in her as 
well. She can effortlessly rattle 
off obscure public policy 
points and arcane aspects of 
the Code of Federal 
Regulations as they pertain to 
housing poor people. 

Starr Smith is Bianca's co-organizer. A single mom who 
came to work with FRD when she was still homeless, she's on the 
outside fielding questions and dealing with the dozens of unfore- 
seen snafus cropping up by the minute. They make an interest- 
ing team. Henry grew up in the thick of gangs and her 
neighborhood was devastated by the crack cocaine industry. She 



exemplifies the Tupac generation of 
young people who grew up in the era 
where every reform won during previ- 
ous upheavals was being stripped 
away. Smith came of age following the 
Grateful Dead in the final days of Jerry 
Garcia. Both faced down long-prison 
sentences and have built the FRD's 
housing campaign ft-om scratch. In 
many ways the eclectic crowd is a 
reflection of this partnership. 

Later in the afternoon one 
neighbor the group forgot to out- 
reach to is steaming pissed — the 
President of the Tenants Associat- 
ion. She confers with Jim Williams, 
Head of Security of the SFHA. He in 
turn, asks Jennifer Freidenbach of 
the Coalition On Homelessness, to please call the agency when 
the protest is over. 

"We're not leaving, we're moving more people in." 
Freidenbach answers. 

"Yeah right." Williams retorted. 


"Well... Why don't we have our legal people call yours?" 

Within the next 24 hours, the San Francisco Police 
Department had indeed cleared 45 Westpoint and the other 
units that had been reclaimed. This "Autonomous Zone" was 
finished, but the world of possibilities opened through good 
old fashioned mutual aid and a crowbar remained. 

Rebuilding tlie Left One Block at a Time 

"More often than not, reliance on voting in periodic elec- 
tions has sidetracked them from the more powerful 
weapons of direct action. By engaging in the continuous 
struggle for justice and human welfare, workers will gain a 
realistic political education and cast the only ballot worth 
casting — the daily ballot for freedom for all." 

— Bayard Rustin New South. ..Old Politics 

After the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle, Elizabeth Betita 
Martinez, wrote an influential essay entitled "Where Was the 
Color in Seattle?" Unfortunately, one never needs to ask that 
question about prisons, slum housing, and homeless shelters. 
These are some of the most integrated institutions in the 
United States. Nevertheless, the loosely dubbed "Global 
Justice Movement" and those actually at the receiving end of 
global injustice are usually separated by vast cultural, politi- 
cal, and economic spaces. 

For a day or so in San Francisco, this wasn't the case. 

In September 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor 
reported that over 34 million people lived in poverty inside 
the United States. This statistic should have annihilated prop- 

aganda that the cause of poverty is personal pathology. In a 
more honest world, factors such as a shift towards a low-wage 
service sector, welfare reform and out-of-control military 
spending would replace such distractions as marital status 
and personality in discussions of homelessness. 

It could be a very good time for economic justice organ- 
izing in this country. Yet, as elections near, actions such as 
housing takeovers remain isolated by the liberal Left — mar- 
ginalized by the urgency to "Elect Anyone But Bush." 

The women of Family Rights and Dignity and the squat- 
ters of Homes Not Jails aren't waiting for the next election. 
They embody a spirit of past movements, such as the 
Unemployed Workers' of the 1930s, which is rooted in the 
everyday needs of community members. They build direct 
democracy with crowbars as their ballots and vacant housing 
as their ballot boxes. Election strategies might occasionally 
produce short-term good — but survival politics outside of 
the formal legislative system are better at producing organiz- 
ers from the ground-up. That builds movements without illu- 
sions — ready to rumble no matter a Bush or Kerry victory. 

As an action initiated mostly by working-class women of 
color it also shows alliances can be built between America's 
different dissident factions. It begins with supporting self- 
organized actions such as this and respecting the fact the 
communities who find themselves under the boot of poverty 
need people to have their back — not to act as spokespeople 
for their cause. Despite gentrification spasms, the city func- 
tions in a way similar to factories of old: a place where people 
of disparate backgrounds can meet, find common grievances 
and hopefully common collective action. 

P.S.. 45 Westpoint was made available to homeless families in 
late February 2004. pw 




Zoe Noe 

"Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy." 

— Franz Kafka 

It's the eve of the annual planning meeting for the staff of Feelin' Groovy, America's favorite sex toy com- 
pany — a worker-owned cooperative! A year ago, I was instrumental in helping plan the event. A year 
later I'm sitting on a California beach, soaking in the waning hours of sunshine, watching the dogwalkers 
and the kites fluttering in the brisk breeze. I won't be attending or helping to plan the annual meeting 
tomorrow because I no longer work there. How did this happen? 

When I wrote part one of this odyssey through the 
revolving door of the job market (see "Lose Jobs Now, Ask Me 
How!" in PW #17), I began with the realization that "all jobs 
are temporary". That is no less a truism today, although in 
recent years I have concentrated — even staked my employ- 
ment hopes in enterprises that at least appeared to offer some 
semblance of a collective work environment. 

I joined a neighborhood recycling center which had 
recently "collectivized" (see sidebar). The collective part was 
true in terms of staff having considerable latitude over day-to- 
day working conditions, but it was fundamentally limited in 
that we did not actually own the business. It was owned by the 
neighborhood council, and major decisions were made by the 
Board of that organization. We had all the frustration of the 
worst aspects of the collective experience — acrimonious, 
excruciating five-hour staff meetings — with very little of the 
actual control and none of the rewards of ownership. The worst 
problem was a fundamental schism between the collective and 
a faction within — led by the son of the man who founded the 
recycling center back in the seventies — who wanted to 

bury the collective experiment. They eventually prevailed of 
course, with the help of the mostly spineless Board, and our 
collective was history, and the work experience became more 
regimented, etc. 

I never imagined I would become a Macrobiotic cook — 
certainly one of my early restaurant managers, in firing me, 
advised me to try anything else — yet I worked for a number 
of years at an eccentric Macrobiotic restaurant owned by a 
gruff curmudgeon with tightwad tendencies, who nonethe- 
less was hands off most of the time and in most ways we 
pretty much ran the place ourselves in a fairly anarchic fash- 
ion, and had lots of creative fireedom. But we didn't own the 
joint; and however much it was evident that things generally 
ran much better when the owner wasn't there to fuck things 
up, still he would meddle often enough that the place could 
never really be the place we imagined it could be — and was, at 
moments — not to mention it was constantly losing money. 

A new career 

I never imagined I would be selling sex toys for a living either, 
but in the summer of 1999 I landed a temp job working the 
reception desk for Feelin' Groovy Sex Toy Emporium, a com- 
pany that did its part in the latter 20th century to help make 
masturbation a household word (along with its accessories). 
Surprisingly, the company was even a worker-owned co-op! 

It was an accidental career choice, like so many I've expe- 
rienced. I was jobless, returning from six months away, during 
the height of the dot com boom. I asked a friend if he knew 
anyone who was hiring — he forwarded me an email exchange 
from a woman friend of his who worked there, on the subject 
of whether they use temps, and whether they even hired men 
at a woman-owned company. Both answers were affirmative, 
and I put in a request to be added to their pool of temps, to 
be perhaps summoned whenever a plethora of boring data 
entry work accumulated. 

I heard nothing for a couple of months, but then was sur- 
prised with a call one day from the office manager, asking if I 
could fill in mornings at the reception desk. 



While training, I found that the company was actually 
between receptionists and was filling the position with temps 
while accepting applications for the permanent position. Both 
I and the other part-time temp decided to apply for the job — 
and since we were already trained in the basics by the time the 
interviews came around, they hired us both. 

I actually lied during my interview and said "a few years" 
when asked how long I planned to work there. It wouldn't 
look good to tell them that I was probably heading back to 
Florida after a few months, so I didn't mention it. But then, 
once I was hired, with the possibility of benefits starting after 
three months, the new job started to seem pretty good to me, 
and I quietly decided not to return to Florida. It was a fun 
place to work, pretty easy, and I got to interact with all sorts 
of interesting people on a regular basis — not only our eclectic 
staff, but many sex industry luminaries who would cross my 
desk on any given day. Also, I was on track to become a co- 
owner of the company, which basically involved a series of co- 
op orientation classes, maintaining a satisfactory meeting 
attendance record and having a token ownership payment 
deducted from one's paycheck over the course of a year. 

I took being a co-op member quite seriously. Finally, here 
was a chance to achieve true worker's self-determination, in a 
business that really was worker-owned! I got involved with 
various committees, helped mentor new hires into the co-op 
process, and even ran for the Board of Directors. 

About the cooperative 

Feelin' Groovy didn't start out as a cooperative, but began as 
a sole woman proprietorship in the late seventies, an out- 
growth of the feminist consciousness raising of that era. 
Much legend has attached itself to the story, but fact is she 
tapped into a substantial need for quality sex merchandising 
and education in a setting that 
wasn't demeaning. By the early 
nineties she had a staff, and a 
mail order catalog as well, and 
sales continued to multiply. She 
sold the business to the staff, 
who formed a cooperative of 13 
people or so — all women. The 
first man was hired in the mid- 
nineties. By the time I was hired, staff size had mushroomed 
upwards of 75 people. 

The cooperative dynamic was different from businesses 
which had been formed as cooperatives or collectives. So- 
called sex-positivity was the common variable, and there was 
always a creative tension between those for whom being a co- 
op simply meant that the profits were shared and others who 
came into it with a lot of idealism about what it meant to be 
a co-op; that it implied a more horizontal authority structure. 
(That tension continues to exist today.) 

Such exponential growth brought challenges to the coop- 


the sex 





Calling Feelin' Groovy a ''co-op" was 

similar to calling tiie United States a 

"democracy": it was mainly window 

dressing to add legitimacy to 

management decisions. 

erative model that simply did not exist at other co-ops which 
were much smaller, or whose size had remained somewhat 
constant over the years. Fact was that, for all of its cooperative 
idealism, it always retained a fairly hierarchical authority 
structure, which only became more pronounced as the com- 
pany increased in size, especially as we began to hire more 
from outside the company for certain specially-skilled posi- 
tions high on the hierarchy food chain. The company would 
often give lip service to, but then usually gloss over, options of 
job sharing and skill mentoring. 

Managers regularly com- 
plained about having decisions 
micromanaged, often by people 
who worked in other depart- 
ments. In the late nineties the 
membership approved a far- 
reaching proposal that would 
give managers much more lati- 
tude to make decisions unchal- 
lenged. Formally separate realms were established within the 
company: "Operations" which meant the realm of managers to 
conduct day to day decisions about the functioning of the busi- 
ness, and "Governance" which meant the "co-op" and the issues 
that the workers were allowed to have a voice in. Issues per- 
taining to the "co-op" became relegated to a status kind of like 
being involved in after-school extracurricular activities; sort of 
noble, and you were often given kudos for doing so, but 
increasingly they tended to occur a pretty safe distance from the 
actual governance of the company. 

I think many of the workers at the time voted for those 



proposals without really grasping the far-reaching implica- 
tions of what they were approving, or how much they were 
giving up. For it led to a general state of affairs in which the 
management team made all the really important decisions, 
with the "governance" side of the company often acting as a 
rubber stamp to management decisions at tightly scripted 
general membership meetings where there wasn't much room 
for controversy, and at which the really important decisions 
were usually not in play. Calling Feelin' Groovy a "coopera- 
tive" was similar to calling the United States a "democracy": it 
was mainly window dressing to add a kind of legitimacy to 
management decisions, by being approved by the group at 
large. This trend within the co-op was further accelerated 
after the crisis to the business following 9/11, when our man- 
agers were trusted to steer the ship, and many of the interest- 
ing things that made the co-op a co-op were jettisoned for not 
being cost-effective. Just like in the real world. 

The day that (hanged dildo sales forever 

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 shattered the illusion that ours was 
a recession-proof business. We were always amazed by the phe- 
nomenal success of the business; every year we would show 1 5- 
25% growth almost despite ourselves. Our revenue took a 
serious hit in the aftermath of the attacks — our retaQ stores 
took a big tumble as many people cancelled their vacation 
plans, and we suddenly discovered just how dependent on 
tourist traffic we really were. Our mail order division also took 
a big hit with the anthrax scare. All of a sudden we faced layoffs 
for the first time in the history of the company. I was amazed 
that the reception job survived this period, as mine was not one 
of the jobs eliminated. Many 
recently hired retail staff were 
laid off however, and I found 
myself in the strange situa- 
tion of training to fill in shifts 
at the stores. 

Along with the reality of 
layoffs, the culture of our 
cooperative received a seri- 
ous blow, as many of the 
committees and classes and 
meetings were deemed 
peripheral to the survival of 
the business. A great deal of 
power was consolidated in 
the hands of management at 
this time: most people in the 
company were scared; just 
wanting to keep our jobs. 
Indeed, we were in many 
ways a microcosm of the 
national mood at that time; 
that our survival was in 

jeopardy, and people were willing to trust that our leaders 
knew best. 

Later — once the business stabilized somewhat away from 
the brink of dire emergency, and the more normal mistrust 
(between management and front line staff) had room to 
reassert itself — there arose a pretty substantial backlash to the 
concentration of authority in the company, but mostly it 
played itself out in the form of impotent grumbling, an occa- 
sional flame at a general membership meeting, but never 
resulted in any serious challenge to the corporate order. 
Occasionally, certain disgruntled floor staff were able to ride 
the backlash to elected seats on the board, but usually within 
six months on the board those same individuals could be 
found conforming to the management line about the sacri- 
fices required in order for profitability to happen. 

A hostile takeover 

Anyway, propelled by my enthusiasm for the co-op, I applied 
for, and was hired as the Secretary to the Board of Directors, 
which meant taking minutes at Board meetings, as well as 
being the one to oversee whether everyone was keeping up 
with their ownership duties. 

The co-op part of the business took pride in the fact that 
we adhered to a reasonable pay ratio between highest and 
lowest paid employees. At the time I was hired, the differential 
was 3 to 1; sometime during the past few years the co-op 
voted to change it to 4:1. (According to Equal Exchange's web 
site, based on Business Week's 2000 annual survey of American 
corporations the ratio between typical CEO pay and that of 
average workers is 475 to 1!) Management was often maneu- 



vering to increase the ratio, claiming that it was difficult to 
attract qualified management personnel for the wages we 
were able to offer. During this time, the Board and manage- 
ment were working hard on overhauling the company's com- 
pensation policy. 

After months and numerous drafts, a completed com- 
pensation policy was sent to the Board for approval. The 
Board passed it, but many staff were unhappy about it; par- 
ticularly with the provisions which would greatly reduce 
annual seniority wage increases, and also with the timing: the 
completed policy was presented to the membership and then 
Board was scheduled to vote on it the following day! 

A group of retail staff, in an effort to keep the new pol- 
icy from being railroaded through, organized a special meet- 
ing of the cooperative in order to veto the Board decision. It 
was unsuccessful, as most members voted to uphold the new 
policy. But in the week leading up to the special meeting 
there was much confusion regarding exactly how many votes 
were needed to veto a Board decision, since it had never been 
attempted before. The Bylaws were vague on this topic, and 
many members — including several Board members — were 
consulting me in my role as Secretary for a definitive answer. 

I used simple logic in figuring out the threshold for a 
veto, but it turns out my logic was not simple enough. My 
answer was at odds with the president of the board, who said 
it was one greater than the number I came up with, which was 
certainly open to interpretation, and hardly mattered anyway 
as it was not expected to be a close vote at all. But after the 
phone call where the board president called me to reassert her 
interpretation, I knew I was fucked. 

Several days later, as I was seated at the reception desk, 
someone came up to me with a stack of papers she'd found in 
the restroom, and asked if I could figure out who they might 
belong to. It was a stack of printed-out emails, left behind by 
a board member, and I recognized the same blizzard of emails 
I'd been involved in previously. But there was one added that 
I had not seen before, from the board president to the other 
board members, stressing that they needed to get rid of me as 
Secretary (as I had already been duly warned never to disagree 
publicly with board members in my role as Secretary), and 
that there would be a closed door discussion about it at the 
next board meeting. I was clearly not meant to see that email, 
but I decided to beat them to the punch, and wrote my resig- 
nation letter, and presented it to them at the beginning of the 
next board meeting, and gave four weeks notice. 

My satisfaction was short-lived however. In a seemingly 
unrelated turn of events, I was summoned the next day to the 
General Manager's office, where I was told that my reception 
job was being eliminated at the end of the month. I was 
offered part-time hours at one of the retail stores, and after 
some consideration I decided to take it, even though I really 
didn't think I would do very well at retail. 

Yes ma'am, humiliate me some more! 

I was often amazed at how I managed to get on the other side 
of the counter of a place that I wouldn't otherwise frequent — 
while meeting so many earnestly kinky young sex radicals 
who would do anything to have my job. Still, my first few 
months at the store were surprisingly fun as I was trained in 
the ins and outs of dildos, vibrators, erotic videos and books, 
condoms and lubes, light bondage gear, customer service, reg- 
ister skills, ridiculous novelty items, how to deal with unsa- 
vory customers (known as "wankers"), and the potential 
benefits and hazards of various materials (such as silicone, 
and the ubiquitous jelly rubber). My coworkers were lively, 
and I appreciated the change of pace; working as a team, com- 
pared with the office which was so compartmentalized. And 
for the most part I enjoyed having direct contact with the 
buying public (in my dual role as sales associate and occa- 
sional sex counselor). I enjoyed doing the actual front line 
work fulfilling the company's sex-positive mission, and 
proved more adept at it than I would have thought possible. 
Or so I thought. My illusion of comradely co-existence 
was rudely shattered nearly four months later, when I finally 
had my overdue mid-training performance evaluation with 
my supervisor and found that we had a serious mismatch of 
expectations. She had pages worth of minor infractions, 
which became major due to the sheer volume of them (many 
which I could have worked on much sooner if they had not 
been kept secret from me for so long). Heinous misdeeds such 
as asking too many questions (as training retail staff we were 
encouraged to ask questions, but apparently it was not okay; 
in my case it often came down to asking the wrong question 



to the wrong person at the wrong time.), talking to people 
sometimes while they were on their break (horrors!), picking 
the wrong time apparently to explain something to a cus- 
tomer (or failing occasionally to take advantage of an oppor- 
tunity to cross-sell a certain product). (Oh yeah, and lateness. 
Though once I found out I was officially in the doghouse, I 
was not late again!) 

I was put on probation, with a month to basically clean 
up my act, and request any additional training I might think 
I'd need. I pretty much gave up on asking questions alto- 
gether, for fear I might step on some toes. It became increas- 
ingly obvious that many of my coworkers were spying on 
me — and that many of them would run to my supervisor to 
complain instead of just bringing it up to me. Which provided 

some real gems at my probationary check-in a 
month later. I thought I'd been really making 
some improvements, but my supervisor came 
in with pages more of infractions against me. 
Such as putting deposit slips in plastic ziplock 
bags even when there were no coins in the 
deposit. Or (gasp!) taking a little too long to 
gift wrap a purchase. Or being unduly gener- 
ous in offering to fill in for people at the other 
stores who were calling me almost daily beg- 
ging me to cover shifts for them. 

By this point I was begging my managers 
and HR to let me give up my cherished status 
as an "owner" of this great establishment, let 
me just be an on-call flex person at the other 
retail stores. That way everyone will be happy; 
people will be thrilled to get their shifts cov- 
ered, and you guys will be spared having to 
answer the wrong questions at the wrong 
moments. But because I was on probation, I 
wasn't allowed any flexibility over where I 
could work at all. Isn't being part of a cooper- 
ative wonderful? 

I was given an ultimatum of no more than 
two infractions in the coming month, which I 
unfortunately wasn't able to overcome, espe- 
cially now that coworkers at the other stores I 
filled in at were also spying on me; reporting 
such grievous offenses as taking a long time to 
complete a downtime task, or being in the 
wrong section of the store at a certain given 
moment. My supervisor deftly ambushed me 
one afternoon, cheerfully suggesting we could 
step outside for a little check-in, and casually 
shooting the shit with me on the way out there, 
where the store and HR managers were waiting 
for me with my last check in hand. 

At Feelin' Groovy, we often prided our- 
selves on navigating uncharted territory — 
being a sex toy company the size we were while remaining 
worker owned and operated — but I wonder if the sheer size of 
the group is fundamentally incompatible with the co-op 
experiment. Other pressures have to do with the fact that, 
despite the universal need for non-judgmental sex informa- 
tion and quality sex accessories, our revenue was essentially 
reliant on selling luxury items — there's only so many Rabbit 
Pearls or Hitachi Magic Wands the average person could need. 
(It's not like co-op natural foods store with a regular customer 
base that can be counted on to come in and buy their organic 
rice and veggies every week.) 

It's remarkable to me how an organization with an oft- 
expressed commitment to "diversity" can result in such a 
cookie-cutter approach to sales staff. And how such creative 



free speech enthusiasts can end up creating a work atmos- 
phere where people are afraid to speak their mind about the 
subject of work — and where it gets more likely to be fired for 
the crime of just wanting to be a human being while at work. 
I feel for many of those who are still there, who tell me how 
morale is at an all-time low, with everyone — even veterans of 
over ten years — fearful that they will be the next ones to get the 
axe. I may have exchanged some relative certainty for an addi- 
tional degree of precariousness, but I don't miss the impending 

betrayal and humiliation. Nor do I miss being expected to sell 
an increasing array of cheesy gag gifts aimed at suburban bach- 
elorettes with loose wallets in order to meet the bottom line. 
How sad that "sex-positive" would come to this! 



I knew it was an exciting fashion moment when I looked at the 
full-page Macy's ad in the paper, which featured full-body cat- 
suits in luxuriant velour. Not my usual style, but I was especially 
enticed by the black & white leopard print variety. "I have to 
have that!," I remarked to my co-workers at the restaurant. 

They didn't have my size at Macy's (I'm a big guy; tall and slen- 
der), but I shopped around, and found one at a boutique on 
Haight Street that fit me pretty well. I wore it at all three of my 
part-time jobs. Customers at the Macrobiotic restaurant were 
amused, slightly titillated, but took it in stride, quite used to the 
eccentric staff. People barely raised an eyebrow when I wore it 
at the gay newspaper where I worked as a production assistant. 
I had no reason to imagine they wouldn't be similarly blase at 
the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood recycling center where my 
commitment was dwindling anyway. 

I had worked at the recycling center for five years, much of it 
enjoyable (see my tale of toil, "There Goes the Neighborhood", in 
Processed World issue #26/27), but it was a grimy job, our failed 
attempt at collectivization had taken its toll on me, and I had 
recently moved across the Bay to Oakland, and was holding on to 
just one shift a week while I contemplated giving notice. 

My remaining shift wasn't even at the yard, but helping staff a 
pilot program for recycling office paper at some of the large 
office buildings downtown. Since I was commuting from 
Oakland, I would just meet my co-workers at the loading dock of 
a certain building. They would drop off a truckload of empty bar- 
rels along with a handtruck, and my job was to visit all the 
offices we had contracted with, and exchange all our empty bar- 
rels for full ones, and bhng them down to the loading dock. 

I actually tried to give three-weeks notice, but it was denied by 
the assistant manager (who was in charge while our regular 
manager was out on paternity leave). For some petty, ridiculous 
reason that I never understood, he didn't trust me to train any- 
one else to take over my duties: I had to wait until the head of 
the office pickup program returned from a lengthy vacation 
before I could resign. This didn't sit well with me, and I wasn't 
sure yet how I would respond. Certainly, it was a discouraging 
reminder of how far workplace dynamics had fallen in the cou- 
ple of years since we ceased formally being a collective. 

One particular September morning (coincidentally the same day 
that would have been my last had I been allowed to give notice), I 
met my truck crew and received the barrels, then decided to 
change into the catsuit in the bathroom on the 41st floor before 
working my way down to the ground floor. As I made my way from 
floor to floor, I received quite an assortment of responses. 
Secretaries and receptionists loved it; it brightened their day, and 
was a welcome relief from the usual business drag. Senior stock- 
broker types also got a kick out of it, regarding me with slightly 
condescending smiles that nonetheless suggested that they too 
welcomed a sight that was a little out of the ordinary. It was the 
middle management types — ^who were still concerned with climb- 
ing the corporate ladder — ^who couldn't handle it. 

On the 29th floor, middle-aged woman, her face as severe and 
ashen grey as her power suit, confronted me, shaken, and told 
me that my attire was completely unacceptable, and that 1 must 
leave the building at once. I sidestepped her and boarded the 
freight elevator amused with how uptight some people are. 
When I got to the loading dock though, a security guard was 
waiting for me, and refused to let me even unload the full bar- 
rels of paper from the freight elevator, insisting only that 1 leave 
the building at once. I said "fine, you get to unload the freight 
elevator then!". 

Once outside of the building, I found a suitable location and 
changed back into street clothes, and took a lunch break. Then 
I slipped back into the building and quickly, quietly did the 
remaining floors (so that my co-workers wouldn't be stuck hav- 
ing to do it). I gathered all of the full barrels on the now unat- 
tended loading dock, and went home. 

The next morning though, I received a phone call at home from 
the assistant manager, who was very angry and upset, saying 
that the phone had been ringing off the hook during my stunt, 
with calls from various offices that 1 had visited, complaining 
that my attire was inappropriate and left very little to the imagi- 
nation. (He said one of the callers said they could "see every- 
thing".) In short, I was being fired. When pressed for comment 
from me, I just laughed and said, "Sayonara, I'm through!" 

Several years later, I was in the Haight, and happened to pay a 
visit to the recycling center. A couple of my former co-workers 
were still there, and one of them introduced me to a young 
woman who had recently begun working there. When I told her 
my name, her eyes widened and she exclaimed, "Oh my God, 
are you the one who got fired for wearing the cat suit?!!" —Z.N. 






An interview 

"Mr Hug, so how do you feel after five years of ter.org37?" 

"Great. As you can see, the transformation has been a 
huge success. By the way, no mister, please, just hug." 

"OK, hug, where I'm from, territory 37, as you please to 
call it, is being accused of exaggerated egalitarianism and of a 
relapse into the crudest forms of planned economy." 

"I can understand that. But we only made egalitarian 
those aspects of life nobody cared about any more, and we 
only plan what's no fun if unplanned. We've left behind all 
those excitements about capitalism, socialism, state or mar- 
ket. We've organised everything reasonably and live for our 
hobbies now." 

"How would you define the basic principle of ter.org37?" 

"Life consists of organisation and decoration. 
Organisation must be efficient and be able to secure basic 
needs. Decoration is everything else: art, culture, parties, 
clothing-styles ... The better the org, the more is left for dec." 

"But it's exactly your clothing-style that looks extremely 

"Come on! takes care of climatically adapted and 
ecologically sustainable basic clothing — everybody is free to 
add as much ind.dec as she pleases..." 

"I think you should explain this in detail." 

"Gladly. In each there is a tex.dep in the 

"I have to interrupt again. In territory 37 a rationalized 
language has been introduced, all words consisting of only two 
or three sounds. Territory is ter, textile is tex, depot is dep, con- 
sumption is con, basis bas etc. hug himself used to be called 
Hugentobler. These terms can form compounds by putting a 
dot in between. They're also used on the But perhaps 
we should begin again with" 

"Yes, let's try to be systematic. All ter.ind are organised in of about 500 ind." 

"An ind is an individual..." 

"Right, not an Indian! Incidentally, there are quite a few 
Indians in our ter." 

"ind. inds?" 

"Not quite. I assume India would comprise about 100 
ter, let's say numbers 345 to 457. An Indian could e.g. be a 
ter.389.ind. However it would be more convenient for her to 
introduce herself with her glo.num." 


"The global identification number. It's generated by a 
random program and assigned to every ind on the planet. 
I'm 037 04 256 100 227. 27 for my friends." 

"You seem to be fascinated by abbreviations and figures..." 

"Fascination is hardly the right word. It's all about avoid- 
ing redundancy, about an ecological use of signs, words, 
numbers to save paper, natural fibers and all substances 
used to carry data. It's about res.eff." 

"Resources efficiency!" 

"Congratulations! Additionally glo.num makes it possi- 
ble not to register all other personal data like sex, name, reli- 
gion, marital status, nationality, parents etc. Everybody can 
choose or change her name as she pleases. All the contracts 
with other inds — including marriage — are private. You can 
have children, change your sex, style yourself as a !Kong — 
glo.num doesn't know. In fact glo.num assures a perfect 
protection of privacy." 

"Back to the systematic explanation of You began 

"Right, is our everyday type of organisation, a 
new, simple, extended household. It's small enough for all 
bas.ind to know each other, but still big enough to avoid 
that sticky social intimacy. Above all it's very efficient in all 
aspects of logistics. Firstly bas.ind live in compact, perfectly 
insulated zero-energy buildings, typically eight stories high 
and 100 meters long, 20 meters wide. These bas.dom palaces 
have elevators, but if necessary you still can reach the upper 
floors on foot — consider the stairs as a kind of integrated 
work-out-center. Most bas.dom are built around an inner 
yard, where the children play, where there is a swimming- 
pool, half in-door, half out-door, where activities of all 
kinds occur — soc.dec! The ground floor is usually reserved 
for infrastructure services: a central kitchen, depots, a big 
laundry, several saloons, dining halls, cafes, bars, a kinder- 
garten, media-saloons, workshops — life!" 

"So all inds are forced to have their meals together in big 




"Why? That would be unbearable. No, res.eff in the food- 
sector is guaranteed by preparing a varied, seasonally adapted 
a-la-carte offer in a state-of-the-art restaurant kitchen, 
bas.ind can choose, if they want to eat together in social com- 
binations of their liking, or if they prefer to have the food 
catered to their family, community or single ind.ap." 

"So inds are not supposed to do any cooking in their apart- 

"They may. I personally would prefer not to use up my 
res.quot with energy-intensive cooking, but I'd rather invest 
it in an ocean cruise or a flight to Brasil." 

"Aha. This extreme control fetishism again..." 

"Just hold it! There is only one planet and all glo.ind are 
entitled to the same share of its resources." 

"That's entirely correct. We all agree on that, but..." 

"... nobody takes action accordingly. We say: every ind is 
entitled to an energy-equivalent of 500 Watt per day. That's 
only about 20 times less than the actual lO'OOO Watts in 
your country, that are ruining the eco-sphere. Other 
resources are allotted on the same principle, res.eff is 
accounted for by a personal resources account, res.quot. Of 
course, not everything we do can be monitored, but our 
res.pol are doing their best." 

"A resources police!" 

"We only have one planet — all means — even desperate 
ones — must be used to save it." 

"And I bet, all res.quots are registered in a central computer 

(hug — alias 27 — pulls a rainbow-colored credit card out 
of his jacket pocket.) 

"This is our tot.inf card. Everything is registered on its 
memory chip: glo.num, lab.quot, mon.quot, blood-type, 
allergies, tex sizes. All this information is on ter.sys as well, 
but people seem to have a kind of nostalgic attachment to 
the credit card format..." 

"But this is dramatic: you've established the transparent 

"Logically. I mean: whoever hasn't done anything evil 
has nothing to fear from full disclosure. Those who used to 
be against the fully transparent citizen were typically the 
same who had skeletons in their cellars. But tell me: how can 
a society function with full ecological and social efficiency if 
there are no data at its disposal?" 

"But your, the state, has full control over its citizens. 
This must lead to misuse of power on an unprecedented scale. 
Big eco-brother watching you..." 

"So be it. But sober up. Information doesn't mean con- 

trol, knowledge doesn't produce power. These are purely 
ideological claims. Take power: you're a member of ter.ex, 
the territorial executive council. What does it mean? Power? 
Not at all: lots of meetings, a lot of paper work, all kinds of 
hassles. We've got difficulty finding candidates for adminis- 
trative positions. What advantage should I get out of my 
job? Sure, the working time is accounted for on my lab.quot, 
but it hasn't got any influence on my res.quot, my 20 m^ of 
living space..." 

"You happen to be a member of ter.ex." 

"Correct. I'm there for the No Nonsense party." 

"We were talking about" 

"Right, we must proceed systematically. So, the 
take care of life in a basic sense, in fact it's a kind of package 
deal, as we used to have them in the holiday business. The 
difference is, that we're costumers and staff, taking turns. are mostly urban units, in the country they can also 
exist, less compact, may-be. Not to forget: each has 
90 ha of land, somewhere in the, which provides a 
high level of self-sufficiency." 

"/ can't understand this. Wliy don't you produce food on a 
large scale by the — why these archaic city/country- 

"Because industrial agriculture is not efficient. We've 
had to replace it by a new type of mixed cultivation to save 
the soil and to be independant of external energy supply. To 
achieve this intensive work by a lot of people is needed. Big 
units are no advantage in this form of agriculture. 
Periodical work on the has. farm is also an aspect of soc.dec." 

"What was this again?" 

"Social decoration. Doing things together because it's 
fun. Agriculture cannot be run like the industry. Direct rela- 
tionships between producers and consumers are essential to 
avoid scandals like BSE, MFD, antibiotics poisoning, gener- 
ally loss of quality, are logistically ideal for this type 
of supply. And there is something like the love for the land: 
agriculture is closer to child-rearing than to industry. 
Looking after plants and animals. Evidently pro- 
duces salt, sugar and oils industrially." 

"So there are no free farmers left, just these 

"Farmers have never been independent — that would be 
a contradiction in itself. As any producer, they have to sell 
their produce to somebody and they're bound to be 
dependent from the buyers. The cooperation with has. orgs 
was based on free contracts and it has proved to be much 
more profitable and enjoyable than being dependent on big 
supermarket chains. Most agr.orgs have now merged with 
their city counterparts into one household-unit: less stress 
for everybody involved, simpler accounting and faster help 



in times of emergency." 

"The first thing I noticed in the uniform clothing, 
all natural beige or eggshell-white fabrics..." 

"Yes. In fact it was a deal with the other no-nonsense 
parties, which opted for different solutions. All ter.ind get 
the same clothing items from their tex.dep: natural, organi- 
cally grown, non-colored cotton, linen, wool. You have your 
measures taken and every day you can collect your freshly 
washed and ironed set of clothing and sheets in your 
ground-floor depot, tex.inf is registered on your tot.inf card 
and you can get your size in any There are under- 
pants, socks, T-shirts, shirts, a very elegant jacket, a padded 
coat for the winter, women's dresses etc. The set was 
designed by the best designers in the territory — after an 
open competition. The advantages are obvious: everything 
can be washed in big, energy-efficient washing-machines, 
nobody needs to store clothing or textiles in their flat, 
nobody needs to think of clothing at all and is free to enjoy 
any kind of dec-nonsense." 

"But you can also have yours clothes tailored individually." 

"Of course. But then you have to take care of this per- 
sonally, and your res.eff might suffer. Almost nobody is into 
this anymore." 

"But the general uniformity..." 

"Any kind of efficiency implies a certain level of monot- 
ony: mass production, economy of scale! No way around 
this. As you can see, it was exactly that has generated 
an explosion of ind.dec: people wear immense turbans, they 
decorate themselves with scarves, jewelery, especially gold, 
they tattoo themselves, grow beards, invent funny hair- 

"/ can't help noticing that you have had your nostrils 

"Ironically is a big success. We've had to open 
shops in New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, clothing is 
one of our big export hits. Our CD-ROM is very 
popular, too." 

"You mean: you're exporting your social system?" 

"Sure, for free,, including and, cal- 
ibrated to 10 million ind, can be loaded down and put into 
action by anybody, globally, as" 

"Maybe here we have to supply a few infos on ter.orgO: 10 
million ind, SO'OOO square kilometers — about the size of 
Belgium or Pennsylvania — , between 40° and 50° north or 
south, medium rainfalls..." 

" can be adapted to any climate, surface, or 
topograhic condition. It's a basic program for the planet." 

"Okay, but we wanted to proceed systematically. We 
already have taking care of all everyday needs. And 

beyond that?" 

" Consisting of 20, lO'OOO ind, and pro- 
viding, as its name suggests, the urban sphere for the ind. In 
bigger cities would be a neighborhood, a borough, 
in the country a small rural town." 

"And there is nothing in between?" 

"Why should there be? Smaller setdements cannot pro- 
vide a compact, would only spoil the countryside 
and take away land from the farmers. A real ind can only live 
in minimal urban surroundings. Man is an urban being, she 
degenerates in the country. A few villages and hamlets may 
have survived, but they're not really part of" 

"Just a moment: does this mean, that there are people in 
your, that do not fully belong to" 

"Of course, is not totalitarian, it's an offer. As a rule 
10% of everything isn't, but, or even 
This was part of our coalition contract with the Some- 
Nonsense Party. Our more radical partner, the Absolutely- 
No-Nonsense party, was strictly against the 10% rule — they 
didn't want any ter.mon and they wanted to reduce res.quot 
to 200 Watts." 


"Territorial money in notes, so that it can circulate with- 
out being controlled by the central accounting computer." 

"A kind of free market economy?" 

"Not really — not much more than pocket money. Our 
system is very simple: there is an ind.lab.quot, a number of 
hours you must work in a lifetime, at the moment it's 27'086 
hours, or 9.27602 years of eight-hour-days, without count- 
ing free days or vacations. Your tot.inf always tells you the 
individual state of the account. The equivalent of what you 
have there — allowing for a little over-draw — can be spent 
for goods in the, the organisation of distribution. 
But only, if your ind.res.quot agrees with it. To make the sys- 
tem a bit more flexible without compromising its efficiency 
it was decided that 10% of your lab.quot can be paid in 
ter.mon. This makes sense, especially for foreign visitors, 
who can change their dollars or euros into ter.mon and 
spend those in hotels, shops, trains etc." 

"Sounds too good to be true. What happens if somebody 
just doesn't want to work, or when you're ill, handicapped, 

"Alright, is bit more complex than outlined 
above. What helps is a completely integrated, computerized 
labour market — as you would call it — of about 5 million 
able workers between 15 and 70. This means, that it's no 
problem to find a suitable job, even on short notice. If nec- 
essary, you can get an extra res.quot bonus for additional 
mobility needed to get to your job. Moving to another 


PROCESSED WORLD 2.005 is extremely easy: just pack a bag with some per- 
sonal belongings, and off you go: no furniture, no clothing, 
no pots and plates! Each keeps a reserve of 10% of 
space to facilitate this kind of mobility. When they're full, 
you go to If you're ill, a replacement is easy to find. 
The handicapped, of course, can get work according to their 
abilities and a reduced vit.lab.quot. Additional flexibility 
derives from the fact, that each ind can spread or concen- 
trate her nine years of work according to her wishes. You 
work a year, take a break of a year, you work a month here 
and there, you take 20 hour work weeks, etc. If you go into 
training, this counts as work, too." 

"And if somebody works more than her lab.quot?" 

"Then she can only get those 10% in ter.mon." 

"The rest can be passed on to the heirs?" 

"No, when you die, all your accounts are frozen and 
stored — for ever. There is nothing to pass on, except a few 
personal items. A ter.ind doesn't really own anything, not 
even her clothes. We're basically poor, or free, it depends on 
how you see it." 

"And if somebody still doesn't want to work?" 

"You mean: the hard-core work refusers. We can't do 
much about it. She'll be approached by nice and under- 
standing lab. funs — labour functionaries — who will 
counsel her and make her the best possible offers. There 
are a few guidelines, too. At the age of 30, you should 
have worked 30% of your lab.quot. We're not really ready 
to believe those, who promise to do all their lab.quot 
between 80 and 90, and pass on to other universes before 
they ever get there. And then there's also lab.dec: work 
conditions have improved greatly taking in account the 
relative autonomy of the workers — it's become really 
attractive to work. No stress, no speed-up, maximal 
safety, a good atmosphere." 

"And how have you organised your social security sys- 

"There are none, of course. How could there be? takes care of all your needs, whether you work or 
not, when you're ill or old. In case of illness, just go to the 
med.dep, talk to a med.op or As I said, we're an 
all inclusive offer." 

"med.op seems to be your term for a doctor..." 

"Exactly. There are also agr.op, mob. op, tex.op, 
dom.op, did.op, a lot of fun. of all kinds, and dec. ops!" 


"Got it." 

"And if someone still refuses to work, even after having 
been counselled by your persuasive lab.funs?" 

"Aha, you seem to be really concerned about free- riders. 
Now, even if you refuse work, you'll have to live somewhere, 
in a, and there will be people. They'll tell you, that 
they're not so happy with your behaviour. You move on to 
another — but there are phones, and word will get 
around... It is obvious, that social cooperation only works 
under the condition of functioning social communication, 
free-riders can only exist in relative anonymity. You need con- 
stant social feed-back, so that cooperative behaviour pays and 
defection doesn't. Read Dawkins, The Selfish Gene!' 

"So there is social control." 

"Yes — there's no way around it. Some work must be done. 
Now, if a non-worker has some charm, you can still define 
him as a dec.op or a phil.op. Or you can send her into poli- 
tics. There's a lot of leeway. Don't forget that the introduction 
of reduced the overall economic activities to about 
20% of what they were before, and also work. So there isn't 
really a very heavy work-load. But we definitely can't live on 
dec. alone." 

"Sounds very puritan to me." 

"It's still true — it's one of the flaws of this universe. A real 
challenge, too." 

"No paradise." 




DEAR LOf(.D...G\VE me THE 




"Not in this universe. But there are others..." 

"As a visitor I was allowed to enter on a temporary 
basis. It was rather awkward, I must say. At the border I had 
to check in at a office. Then you pay a 50 dollar deposit 
for each day you want to stay. This means you don't have to 
work, but you still have to keep within your res.quot. Then 
they take your fingerprints and scan your iris. You get issued 
your glo.num and your tot.infcard. In the next room, there's a 
tex.dep, where they take your measures and hand you over 
your clothing, depending on the season. You can have your old 
clothes stored. I must say, putting on the new clothes and see- 
ing myself in a mirror was really fun. You suddenly look so 
ter.orgish. After that you're free to travel all over the ter37, 
have meals in any, find rooms in most of them. With 
your card you can consult the state of your quots at any 
machine — a kind of ATM, which you find at any street corner. 
Everything is free. You can even enroll at and accumu- 
late a little lab.quot. Usually it's some cleaning in a bas.dom, 
or some help in a kitchen. Upon your departure, your lab.quot 
is subtracted from your deposit and you get back the rest, or all 
of it, but never more, unfortunately." 

"That's because we don't want to exploit foreign work- 
ers. And what's the experience like for you?" 

"An eerie feeling of freedom. After the first shock of iris-con- 
trol, all those questions in the office, the taking of meas- 
ures, I mean. Suddenly I had time for a lot of things." 

"That's the point: no-nonsense org, so that more non- 
sense is possible. Sounds paradoxical, but such is life." 

"I had a big scare, though, when I realised, that I couldn't 
board a train, because my res.quot was empty. I was stranded 
in urb32, in the mountains." 

"You must have been travelling around too much. Yeah, 
the res.quot can play you some nasty tricks. Its handling 
requires some experience and foresight. You have to combat 
the instant-satisfaction-mentality, that puts such a stress on 
the resources. Most of us accumulate a res.quot reserve for 
emergencies, like a flight to Mexico, when you get your late- 
winter depression." 

"Thanks for your advice. Now, mobility is the topic." 

" This means the ind on foot, and most of the 
rest of the trips by public bikes." 


"Exactly. All of this puts no stress on the res.quot. We've 
got a somewhat reduced system of public transportation, so 
that every urb can be reached. These trips are charged to 
lab.quot and res.quot. Finally there's a territorial car-share 
organisation,, even — Rolls Royce Silver 
Shadows, Maibachs, Ferraris, Chevrolets — for birthdays, 
existential crises and such — but these impinge on your 
quots considerably." 

"No private cars?" 

"Theoretically possible, but such a burden, that you'd use 
up your whole res.quot just for this. You'd have to be a real 

"So then, individual transportation is virtually no 

"You can get wherever you want, maybe not as fast as 
before and not on short notice. Very few flights, only a few 
thousand kilometers of international train trips. Mobility is 
not a need in itself, but a function of the territorial lay-out 
of social systems. If work, living and entertainment are geo- 
graphically separated, a lot of unenjoyable trips are neces- 
sary. Now,, and, optimized by ter.sys, 
allow for everyday functions being mostly within foot or 
bike distance. If you consume mobility, it should be for 
pleasure, like drives into the country, surprise visits to 
friends, or races on some of the remaining highways. Speed 
can't be replaced by anything else. Some people need it from 
time to time. This has nothing to do with old-time com- 
muting. However the Absolutely-No Nonsense party 
wanted to scrap all cars..." 

"You always mention other parties. Does this mean, that 
you are a democracy?" 

"We're absolutely democratic. Everything is democratic, 
the have their elected bas.ex of 10 ind and a general 
assembly, bas.leg, of all bas.ind. have an urb.leg of 
100 delegates and an urb.ex of 10 ind, the alike and 
in the whole there's a ter.leg of 100 representatives 
and ter.ex of 10..." 

"And nothing bigger than territories, no nations?" 

"Nothing bigger. We found out that bigger units are eco- 
logically unsound and socially hazardous. I mean, nations 
have a very bad record of peacefulness." 

"A very rational approach, expressed also by your flag: just 
a natural-beige cotton cloth with the number 37 on it..." 

"In a natural blue dye." 

"What about emotions? National feelings..." 

"Rather not. We think the concept nation is somewhat 
childish, may be appropriate for adolescents. But we intend 
to grow up..." 

"What about justice?" 

"Yes — there's, an independently structured system 
of elected judges, up from to The position of 
judges is very strong, they don't even have a lab.quot!" 

"And there's ter.pol, I presume." 

"Right, urb.pol, reg.pol, ter.pol. Excellent policemen, 
clever detectives... We are a" 

"The ideal police-state." 



"Exactly. However all police interventions, all sanctions, 
must always be supervised and decided by a judge or jury. You 
have the right to see a jur.op within an hour of your arrest." 

"Still, where I come from, the idea of a police-state doesn't 
seem particularly attractive." 

"You're right. I'm sorry. I tried to show off with my flip- 
pancy. There's really very little policing taking place around 
here. No shops to lift, no banks to hold up, everybody 
lodged and fed. No mass anonymity. 

The term police is derived from the Greek word polites — 
which just means citizen. And that's what we do: everybody 
takes a two-week course in basic police work and then you 
can apply for shifts or are called in when it's necessary. 
There's no uniform — in fact we are already uniformed. You 
put on one of those fluorescent green vests over your tex 
with POLICE on them, and off you go. No weapons, no 
sticks, just a notebook. Your job just consists in politely 
reminding your co-citizens of their duties and to keep pub- 
lic spaces orderly and clean." 

"And what kind of sanctions 
would you face in ter37?" 

"The Absolutely-No 

Nonsense party wanted to 
introduce a modified version 
of the islamic sharia: floggings, 
beheadings, public shaming 
etc. for ecological reasons, to 
save all those expenses for pris- 
ons. The Some-Nonsensers 
only wanted deductions from 
lab.quots and res.quots, 
according to the type of crime. 
Now we're somewhere in 
between. For non-violent 
crimes we use deductions — 
very handy, fast and cost-effi- 
cient — and it hurts. Violent perpetrators are sent to, pentitentiaries that are run like, just 
with a high wall around it." 

"There are certain similarities..." 

"To reduce costs, are largely self-sufficient, 
you can call that practical resocialisation." 

"But no public floggings." 

"It would have been bad soc.dec." 

"The new, better human has not arisen, so far?" 

"No, we're all lazy, weak and wily bums. But we've 
decided not to let that pass. Alone we're weak, but under 
strong police supervision, we're strong, pol.dec!" 

" seems to be as democratic as one could wish. But 

how did it come into being? Was there an eco-social coup?" 

"No, no, everything evolved in a democratically correct 
fashion. Proposition ter.org37 was submitted as a package to 
the electorate and we got a 52% vote in favour of it. There 
were some problems of transition, though. One of them was 
the neutralisation of all personal assets, and a uniformisa- 
tion of the incomes..." 

"... the rich must have been on the barricades!" 

"Not at all. There was no expropriation, just an indefi- 
nite freezing. And we have par.sim." 

"Not again. All these abbreviations!" 

"It's very simple. All data on property, accounts and 
incomes, based on tax forms, was stored in a big simulation 
program, that is also taking in account the probable evolu- 
tion of them, plus the career of the owners. Now, whenever 
I'm in a mood of it, I can consult ter.sys and see how I would 
have fared financially in the old system, if I would have 
become a CEO or a homeless, if I would be unemployed. 

"And nothing bigger than territories, no nations?" 

''Nothing bigger. We found out that bigger units are 

ecologically unsound and socially hazardous. I mean, 

nations have a very bad record of peacefulness." 

"A very rational approach, expressed also by your flag: just 
a natural-beige cotton cloth with the number 37 on it..." 

''In a natural blue dye." 

"What about emotions? National feelings..." 

"Rather not. We think the concept of nation is 

somewhat childish, may-be appropriate 

for adolescents. But we intend to grow up..." 

sent to a war etc. Should be abolished one day, we 
could switch to par.sim and continue as before." 

"You seem to have learned from cases like East Germany." 

"They had a lot of problems finding all the records, 
there. So far, most ter.ind are rather shocked, when they take 
a look at par.sim." 

"Understandably. What you call simulation is the real 
plight that awaits me after this vacation. — Now, back to the 
early days" 

"Another problem were the diverging views of the differ- 
ent parties. So, the definite was a product of coalition 
discussions between the three winning No Nonsense par- 
ties. The Absolutely-No-Nonsense party wanted to implant 
a tot.inf chip in our earlobes for total and easy control. 



everywhere. You just walk through electronic gates and all 
your quots are monitored. The Some-Nonsense people were 
against electronic registration. Result: the tot.inf card! The 
Absolutists wanted to abolish the christian calendar and just 
count the hours after the start, no days, no years! 
The Moderates wanted to introduce a ten-day week, a ten- 
month-year and two weeks of celebrations. No, we count 
the years since the start and number all days through the 
year, from 1 to 365 or 366. It's 5.251 today. Now, if some 
groups or whole communities prefer days or weeks or what- 
ever, they can do that privately. Every group — think of reli- 
gious communities — can establish their own holidays. 
Takes a lot of heat from intercultural relations. The 
Absolutists, abs, wanted to impose a compulsory, simplified, 
phonetic one-syllable language, mi.ko, of only two sounds 
per word, to save time and paper. The compromise: min.eng 
is only used in the system, everybody can speak the language 
she likes, additionally min.eng can be used just for fun." 

"Some fun." 

"The Absolutists wanted a military of 50,000, the 
Moderates of 100,000, now it's 75,000. The abs wanted to 
admit everybody with a lab.quot of a 1000 as a ter.ind, now 
you need 10 signatures from your as well — your 
godfathers/mothers, so to speak. You see, is already a 
compromise of three parties. But then there's also BTOS." 

"A new disease?" 

"No, our opposition party, back to the old system. For 
them we established par.sim, against the will of the abs, of 
course. BTOS now has 22% of the votes. There are a few 
splinter parties, the anarchists, who want to assign all pub- 
lic functions by the lot, the Fedorovian Progressists (FP), 
who want to raise the lab.quot every year by 10% so that we 
could build the quantum computer earlier, the BTB-move- 
ment, back-to-basics, that would like to go down to a 
res.quot of 10 and abolish electricity. Our coalition holds 
65% of the seats in the ter.leg at the moment." 

"And there has been no counter-revohuionary movement 

of the rich?" 

"No. Most of them only considered their wealth as a 
guarantee for comfort and security, offers both. Why 
confront all the hassles with shares, asset-managers, taxes..." 

"No more taxes?" 

"What for? There is no state, no economy, just a general 
logistic organisation, The ind enter their needs and 
wishes into, where they're processed and sent to and, which in turn figure out what's feasible 
with the lab.quot and res.quot at their disposal." 

"An ideal market economy." 

"Yes, but centrally organised and planned. And based on 
the principle of demand: only those goods are produced for 
which a demand has been established beforehand. There's 
no wasteful dumping of goods on an anonymous market. 
Nothing gets lost, no waste." 

"But not every wish is fulfilled." 

"Not even in ter37. However you still have 10% of Maybe you can find there, what couldn't be pro- 
duced efficiently on a larger scale. There are markets in 
every and for specialities, jewelery, per- 
fumes, spirits, paints, books, CDs, car parts." 

"The seems to be a kind of buffer system for the 

"They represent a qualitatively different level of life and 
organisation. You find building materials there, all kinds of 
machines, a dentist, academies, cafes, dance halls. There's a 
certain anonymity, just shy of discommunication. Some call 
the, the democratic sphere in the sense of 
old Greek democracy. It's the stage for the citizen as a pub- 
lic figure, not as a household member, as in the The 
same is even more obvious for a, typically an agro- 
urban region of between 200,000 and a million ind. Such a 
city would provide metropolitan structures and services like 
an opera house, public transportation, hospitals, interna- 



tional meeting halls, a mundane city center. A 
consists of 10" 

"Which makes the brave new world complete." 

"Not at all. A number of work together in a 
subcontinental framework, Don't forget: no 
more big nations. But on a certain technological 
level — let's say electronics, chemical industry, vehicles, 
mechanical components, steel etc. — cooperation ot on a broader scale is needed. Such sub.orgs 
could be West Asia, North America, South Asia, 
Oceania (Pacific area):,,,, etc. Unfortunately, we're still alone 
as ter37. Strictly speaking our days are counted, it 
other are not constituted very soon. As long as 
the rest of the world still clings to its archaic-dysfunc- 
tional organisation, we have to make compromises in 
many fields. We must produce for export, so that we 
can import certain needed resources. We can be black- 
mailed and are objectively exploited. That's why we 
have such a high lab.quot. Our costs are low, but we are 
not able to profit entirely from this — somehow we're a 
low- wage country. And there were incidents of politi- 
cal pressure..." 

"When President Hillary Clinton put you on the 
rogue states list." 

"We sent her a set of clothing and now she 
shows up in them everywhere. We can only hope, that is loaded down all over the planet and that 
more and more are founded. Very soon we 
should put the world on glo.par.sim. is ready." 

"! Sounds like the name of a monster. Are you 
really sure, that you've got the right answer to all the 
problems on this planet, to all the diversity..." 

"All I know is that we need such an answer. 80% 
of the people on this planet live below a decent mon.quot of 
5000 dollars a year. 20% use up 80% of the planetary 
res.quot. There are hundreds of millions of angry young 
people with no perspective of a decent life. If there's no 
rational offer for these people, they will explode in some 
way. They can be manipulated by all kinds of demagogic 
leaders and cliques. We must choose between a just and eco- 
logically sound or — chaos, misery and 
war. The offer must come from those on the planet who — 
let's say — enjoy already more than 20'000 glo.mon 
(euros/dollars) a year and have a res.quot above 4000 
Watt — there must be a transfer to the pauperised regions of 
the planet, to allow a transition to a sustainable life-style: But this would not be a gift, it would mean paying 
back some of the profits since early colonialism. And 
would be the same for all of us, our common cause." 

"OK, I hear you. But what about cultural diversity? Isn't a product of typically western thinking? Are you seri- 
ous, that you can just rationalise fundamenalist islamic, hindu 
or christian movements?" 

" has nothing to do with culture. As I said, dec is 
free: what you eat isn't defined by, just that you eat. doesn't tell anybody what to think, how to dress, 
who to marry, when to sleep, when to work. Of course you 
could say, that its strictly formal democratic system can get 
in conflict with traditional forms of government. It will also 
weaken the position of some men, because there is the 40%- 
rule: 40% of all ex, leg etc. must be either men or women. 
But then again, these so-called traditional forms of govern- 
ment have a very bad record, just makes sure, that 
all ind can participate in their common cause: the planet." 

"Everybody agrees with you on this. But isn't a bit 
too schematic for all the different situations on the planet. The 
idea of introducing your tot.inf card, your bas.orgs, lab.quots 



etc. let's say in a country like the Congo, seems ridiculous. 
Couldn't there be simpler concepts..." 

"6 billion humans live on this planet. We're all hooked 
up to highly complex technological systems, all dependent 
on fast communication and efficient organisation. There is 
no Congo any more. We cannot fall back on supposedly 
simple systems. It's obvious that can only be started 
in highly organised areas, that have accumulated the appro- 
priate resources. It's a reference model based on this type of 
societies. And then will allow these territories to 
shift a lot of the then superfluous resources to areas that had 
been deprived of them, is not an instant solution, 
but a plan to be put in action." 

" in the rain forest?" 

"I think non.tex is the most energy-efficient, and 
very uniform, too..." 


"Why not? Of course, in tropical climates you wouldn't 
need those compact eight-story buildings. But any village 
can be complemented with a few amenities and function as 
a is very much needed in some of the 
chaotic urban spreads we see in Africa or Asia. Some rail- 
roads can be built, streets paved for bicycles, estab- 

"What if some communities do not want to join" 

"Then they can chose to be left alone. I'd still send some 
glo.funs there to make sure that this is the will of the people 
and not just of some traditional autocrats. I think the con- 
sciousness of being a global society has reached even the 
smallest villages. The need to have a voice in one's own 
affairs, public and private, and to get rid of patriarchal rules, 
whatever their legitimation ideologies might be, is felt 
everywhere, especially among the young and the women. 
There's no valid cultural argument against democracy. If 
people can not fully participate in their societies every- 
where, we'll just see disruptive flows of migration, economic 
and cultural refugees, empty countrysides and overpopu- 
lated pseudo-cities. The planet is ready for" 

"Yes, but planned economies have failed everywhere. The 
world is just too diverse for such a schematic approach." 

"There have been no planned economies so far. There 
were a few attempts of mafias organized as parties and dec- 
orating themselves as communists or socialists to use state 
capitalist means to stabilize their hold on political power. 
No planning based on democratic input ever happened — 
what we saw was just command economy. In reality much 
more planning than ever took place in the Soviet Union, or 
let's just call it comprehensive logistics, is practised today by 
multinational companies. Some of them are bigger than 
many nation-states, have hundreds of thousands of employ- 

ees, combine millions of components. And don't forget, that 
food supply is in the hands of the and needs no 
overall planning at all. Industrial production is now reduced 
to 20% of its former amount: almost no cars, no private 
machines, no supermarkets, simplified clothing. The 
exchange of goods on a level will be only about 10% 
of the actual world market. So, we're not talking of planning 
the existing over-sized global economy, but of rationalizing 
a small remainder of it." 

"So, all those villagers in the Congo can look forward to get- 
ting their tot.inf card?" 

"Yes, it's their ticket to the world society. We already pro- 
duce billions of credit cards at the moment and, as I said, we 
don't even need the most advanced computers to run a few 
billion lab and res accounts. Of course, the basic infrastruc- 
ture must be supplied to everybody." 

"And if the local war-lords oppose the new system?" 

"Then we have" 

"So you would send in troops to make sure that democracy 
is established?" 

"Why not — it has happened before. Think of the inter- 
national brigades in Spain in 1936. National sovereignty 
cannot be invoked to protect dictatorial regimes,, 
under the control of glo.leg, would be good news in many 
parts of the globe." 

"Unfortunately, the we actually have is dependent 
on the US military and on the will of a lot of non-democratic 
nations in the UN that are run exactly by those autocrats, that 
should be ousted." 

"I'm aware of that. The situation is so bad, that you'd 
even prefer direct US-occupation to being oppressed by US- 
sponsored proxy-regimes. The real thing, so to speak. But 
the old system is being eroded from below. We'll have more 
and more territories instead of nations and one day, all the 
600 of them will form the new glo.leg, which might or 
might not grow out of the UN. I think, that basic and terri- 
torial changes in the USA will play a pioneering role in this 
process. After all, and,, the idea of 
economical and ecological fairness expressed in lab and 
res.quot are old American ideals. You could say, that 
is a typically American idea." 

"A new avatar of the US-satan! All very rational, but what 
about religious and nationalist fanatism..." 

"rel.dec! As much as you want. As long as your lab.quot is 
up-to-date, as long as you vote and respect the others, you can 
believe what you want, is no ideology, it's culturally 
neutral. I believe that so-called religious or nationalistic 
extremisms are mostly a quid pro quo, i.e. religious language 
is used to express a protest against economic or cultural 
exploitation. The "evil west" just stands for global capitalism. 



On the other side, the "crazy islamic terrorist" is just a scare- 
crow to keep the workers in Hne in the west. For those, who 
really need a religion and want to get away from the old ones, 
we're proposing glo.rel, a spiritual system, that uses few 
resources, no prayers needed, and is quite transcendental." 

"You can't be serious! Are you actually proposing a new 
global religion?" 

"Why not? It's good to have some ideas about life after 
death and other issues, like the sense of life, glo.rel goes like 
this: the power of computing doubles every few years. The 
quantum computer, the next big leap, will allow simulations 
of manifold universes, including all individuals that ever 
lived, with all their personalities, memories, thoughts, per- 
ceptions. This huge computer will be able to simulate space 
and time, and, consequently, its own construction. Which 
means, that it must already have been built in some universe 
and that we live in one of its simulated universes. Every infor- 
mation on every quantum is available. You cannot die, 
nobody ever could. You just emerge in other universes, if you 
feel like it, and play other, as long as you want." 

"Sounds like good news. Do you want us to believe this?" 

"No, it's not believable, it's scientifically the most proba- 
ble and least contradictory explanation of the nature of our 
universe. Have you ever heard of Nikolai Fedorov?" 

'7s he your prophet?" 

"In a way. He lived in the late 1 9th century and demanded 
eternal life for every human being, including our dead broth- 
ers and sisters. This, he said, was the purpose of science and 
technology. He didn't know about computers yet, he still 
believed in some god instead. Some of the founders of the 
Soviet Union were Fedorovians, including Tsiolkovski, the 
rocket-scientist. So, Fedorovianism was the implicit religion 
of the early Soviet Union. Later, of course, Stalin returned to 
the depressing christian-orthodox religion and called in the 
popes again. Now, we should all be Fedorovians: why die? 

Why not play on in other universes? There's no shortage of 
games: Middlearth, Dune, Earthsea, Anares... we'll invent 
others and better ones. Everything is possible, for ever." 

"But life is tragic." 

"Who says that? Only those who daren't be happy. We're 
all so modest and say things like: eternal life wouldn't be 
bearable, one life is more than enough, you gladly leave 
when you're 95, we've all become dirty existentialists, mini- 
malists ..." 

"You want to avoid disappointments." 

"Then suicide is the solution. No further disappoint- 
ments there, glo.rel is max.dec.rel. Everything else is not 
enough for us." 

"But this is utter heresy..." 

"It's the end of any possible heresy. The quantum com- 
puter I mentioned can be called god or allah by those who 
wish and the rest falls in place for them anyway. Hindus 
might want to consider their gods as sub-routines of the 
main simulation program — or not. Buddhists will feel 
relieved anyway: rebirth is not compulsory, or could even be 
enjoyable. Atheists are happy anyway. They always knew." 

"Pray to Saint Nicolas Fedorov! If life is just a simulation 
and everybody can be sure to show up again in other uni- 
verses — then nothing is serious. I mean, all the victims of 
recent massacres..." 

"If you take this universe seriously, you're bound to be 
too scared to act any more." 

"You seem to have thought about everything very carefully, 
from clean underware to universal religion. Is there anything 
you haven't thought of?" 


"OK, then, thanks for the interview, hug." 

"gloorg!" pw 







monetary unit 






executive council 
























global dimension 


















operator, specialist 




basic unit; 500 ind 


juridical, justice 














means of communication 


legislative council 


Pacific area 












decoration, fun 






urban unit, 20 








vital, life 


didactic activities, learning 














domicil. building 






org 5.251 pem 






quota, account 






agro-urban region. 





10-100 urb 






RODUCTIVITY" WILL ALWAYS BE A HOLY CANON for business. Even today when most wealth takes the form 
of speculation on speculation, obtaining the maximum labor effort from workers matters more than 
it ever did. No amount is ever enough. Pietro Basso's book details the human consequences of the work- 
house society: overtime, speed-ups, shift work, night work, on-call work, temp work, "accidents," ruined 
health and lives. Basso deftly deploys a mass of empirical data to show that working (and thus living) con- 
ditions are deteriorating universally. The importance of Basso's book is that he not only describes the hor- 
rors of modern work but attempts to explain the 

reasons for them. He does this by relating the 
increasing length and intensity of work to the 
nature of capitalism itself. 

^"' "=---'■--■■ ■■'---"' 

Modern Times, 
Ancient Hours 

by Pietro Basso 

London: Verso, 2003 

reviewed by McDo. 

It is an indication of the weakness of the working class 
today that Basso even has to argue for its existence — or, to put 
it more precisely, those who have no means of survival except 
the sale of their ability to work to those who stand to gain 
financially from it. He does this with feisty wit, desiccating the 
widespread fantasy spewed by academic charlatans that the 
working class is an antiquarian curio. In fact, Basso demon- 
strates that when viewed on a global scale the growth of 
industrial work has been a secularly increasing trend over 
time — and that today there are more industrial workers than 
ever before in history. The relative decrease in industrial work 
in "developed" nations is not evidence of salvation from a 
proletarian existence, but a consequence of the enormous 
increases in the productivity of labor and the consequent 
decrease in demand for living labor (exactly as predicted by a 
thinker whose name is more often invoked as a political sig- 
nifier than his ideas bothered with, Karl Marx). The prepon- 
derance of service work in the developed world represents an 
amplification of capital's command over labor, not its dimin- 
ishment: service jobs are modeled on the principles of indus- 
trial work, not vice versa. 

Basso connects the explosion in working hours — as well 
as work's intensity — to profit making itself. Profit (or surplus- 
value) is nothing but the excess of money that emerges at the 
end of the circulation of capital. The magnitude of surplus- 
value depends on the quantity of surplus labor, which is the 
excess of the working day over the labor-time necessary for 
workers to produce a value equivalent to their wages. This is 
how workers are exploited; they produce more value than 
they are paid, and therefore a part of their working day pro- 
duces surplus-value for capitalists for which they receive no 
equivalent. It follows from this that there is an inherent con- 
flict between capital and labor over the length of the working 
day and over the intensity of labor, and that there is an inher- 
ent tendency toward technological change that reduces neces- 
sary labor-time. 

According to the mythology of the economists, work time 
has been decreasing with the rise in the productivity of labor. 
Much of Basso's argument is directed against this fallacy. He 
not only exhaustively shows that the opposite is the case — work 
time has increased or, at best, remained stationary in one or 
two countries — but shows that when the working day was suc- 
cessfully shortened (way back in 1918 and 1968) it was a result 
of class struggle by the working class — and not a gift from cap- 
ital, as the economists would have you believe. 

The labor process is designed to squeeze as much labor 
time as possible out of workers, so that workers in many mod- 
ern factories — and offices — are forced to be in continuous 
motion for 59 seconds of every minute. This is way up from the 
average 45 seconds per minute of the classic assembly line of 
thirty years ago. Even as work performance is gauged by the 
minute — even by nanoseconds in today's computer world — so 
also the length of what constitutes the social norm for working 
time has expanded. No longer based merely on the 8-hour day, 
work time is now calculated according to the week, the year, the 
lifetime. Basso exposes the economists' swindle that time away 
from work has increased per lifetime because life expectancy in 
developed countries has more than doubled, raising the retire- 
ment age (though even this is being contested by capital's polit- 
ical hirelings). This, of .course, overlooks the fact that working 



lives — the most vigorous years of life, not coincidentally — have 
doubled as well. And what exactly is a worker entitled to after 
having had nerves and muscles depleted in the service of 
another's wealth? A slow wait for death whUe being constantly 
reminded how expensive it is to maintain those who no longer 
contribute to the GNP. 

Strangely, Basso's book, with its lost-in-translation title (it 
has nothing to do with ancients), is marketed as being about 
excessive working time when it deals comprehensively with all 
aspects of work under contemporary capitalism. For instance, 
Basso repeatedly points to the quality of work — its mad pace, 
its stultifying monotony, its corrosive stupidity, its degradation 
of sociability and spirit. The never-ending torment of wage 
labor is not just for the sheer sake of it — or because of the 
"work ethic" — but is linked to capital's need to valorize fixed 
capital expenditures by keeping plant and equipment running 
at all times, making the worker ever more servile to the pace 
and demands of machines. It is a measure of capitalism's stran- 
gulation of human progress that its enormous development of 
technology does not serve to alleviate burdensome toil but 
increases it. 

No patron of ideological fashions. 
Basso validates the much-maligned 
"immiseration" thesis — which, con- 
trary to received opinion, does not 
have to do solely with wages (real 
and/or nominal) or quantity of work 
time, but more broadly with the power 
relation between labor and capital. 
Workers have been made ever more 
dependent for their continued employ- 
ment on the successful competitiveness 
of "their" particular firm, territory, or 
nation-state. The meaning of "flexibi- 
lization" is that the worker adapts to 
the economic cycle, facing overwork in 
periods of business expansion and 
unemployed desperation in recessions. 

Basso brings out the true meaning 
of globalization. The book is organized 
to show the common experience of 
increased exploitation of workers 
around the world as workers every- 
where are put in competition with each 
other. At the most glaring extreme, there 
is the example of 24-hour shifts in 
Vietnamese sugar factories. In the devel- 
oped world, America's example of work 
overload — grown by an exponential five weeks a year over the 
last 30 years — has established the norm to beat for its rivals, 
lapan — which has a word for death by overwork — now looks 
like a slacker's haven by comparison. Elimination of legal lim- 
its to the working day are now being attempted in Europe, as 

On the Prisoner Abuse Scandal 
AT Abu Ghraib 

Rumsfeld blamed it on 
The Information Age 
He's right, the story had no legs 
as long as it was trapped 
in language 
on a page 

Really, though, the photos 
may have come and gone — 
bloopers, eggs & apples (bad), 
wrist beslapped, 
goat bescaped, 

No Digital Device 

Beyond This Point 

What tripped us up 
was being forced to wear 
the eyes of those who "hate 
us for our freedom" — 
to be their jailers, 
feel their pain, 

to overact but stay 

the bloody course. 

— klipschutz 

portended by last year's defeat of a strike for a shorter work 
week by the world's most powerful union, IG Metall in 
Germany. However, it is probable that the Bush administra- 
tion's elimination of overtime pay requirements for all kinds of 
job classifications will keep the USA in the vanguard of cheap, 
super-productive workforces. 

Of special interest is Basso's analysis of the 35-hour 
workweek in France that, contrary to the illusions of 
reformists, is anything but an exception to the trends he out- 
lines. In fact, the 35 hour workweek has served to create more 
work — eliminating downtime, informal breaks, overtime pay, 
and introducing Saturday workdays — and not at all in the 
sense of its absurd promise to create jobs for the huge num- 
bers of unemployed. The Aubry law indexes work time to the 
year — that's called "annualization" — rather than to the week, 
thus allowing employers to exploit existing workers in slug- 
gish periods for, say, 30 hours a week while overexploiting 
them in periods of high demand for, say, 50 hours a week 
(supposedly averaging out to a 35-hour week!). It also greatly 
expands the category of part-time work. The whole plan re- 
organizes the work process to enable 
French capital to compete on the basis 
of less investment in new technology 
with more effort ("productivity") on 
the part of the workers. Most insidi- 
ously, implementation of the law is 
negotiated sector by sector, thus end- 
ing uniform social legislation that 
treats all workers equally, serving to 
divide workers against each other. 

Although Basso does not explore 
this, French workers resisted the Aubry 
law (this is the subject of an excellent 
film, Human Resources). This is disap- 
pointing given that Basso optimisti- 
cally predicts an eventual upsurge in 
working class resistance — in fact he 
claims the swell is mounting. Though 
this is sort of like predicting when the 
biosphere will collapse — what are the 
hmits to unhindered exploitation? — it 
raises the question as to why the 
demand for shorter work time has not 
been on the working class's agenda for 
the last ... quarter century at least! One 
rather obvious reason is that overtime 
constitutes an important part of work- 
ers' efforts to make up for declining 
wages. The threat of unemployment is another. Basso notes 
the alarming discovery of the American problem of "presen- 
tee-ism" — i.e., workers who refuse to leave the office — as 
domestic life in America is so alienated that work has become 
a refuge from it. 



Although Basso demonstrates the total failure of social 
democrats and trade unions in Europe to shorten work time, 
he doesn't draw any political conclusions from this. When not 
arising organically from the working class's own struggles but 
is merely a demand with which leftist bureaucrats seek to lead 
the masses to a happy world of pro-worker capitalism, the 
effort to shorten the workday can be a trap. At best, French 
workers were asked to accept lower wages for shorter working 
time. Whose interests does this serve? 

Although its appeal is rare among American capitalists, 
shortening work time as a political demand does have its 
adherents here. Take, for one example (there are others), the 
entirely virtual "movement" of Give Us Back Our Time, a 
public interest-type group enlisting liberal religious leaders, 
unionists and human rights petitioners to appeal to capital 
and the state to shorten exploitation to an extent that will 
allow workers to spend more time in church, with their fam- 
ilies and communities. The literature of Give Us Back Our 
Time details the human costs to workers of the "time squeeze" 
but it bases its whole program on convincing capitalists that 
its in their interests to shorten work time. If workers work 
shorter hours, they can work them harder, thus enhancing the 
position of American capital in the global market! What these 
reformers really oppose is not the shortage of time for a life 
worth living but the shortage of profits. 

Similarly, a recent MSN article deplored the shortage of 
vacation time for American workers — because it leads to 
higher health care costs for employers! It is not uncommon to 
see editorials and research papers pityingly shed a tear for the 
sad condition of workers today — wages have failed to keep up 
with productivity (shocking!); or: work time has failed to 
decrease with increased productivity (outrageous!). But this is 
a conjurer's trick: under capitalism, the point of increased 
productivity is not to give workers time off — unless, by "time 
oft^" is meant unemployment. The point is to save labor costs 
and gain a competitive position that allows the individual 
enterprise to accrue surplus profits above the average. Nor is 
the point of production to enable wages to rise, or for people 
to have better things; it is to make rich people lots of money. 
The delusion of economics is that capitalism is a system of 
meeting needs that rewards its participants with what they 
put into it: capitalists with profits, workers with wages. 

The notion that wages and productivity should rise 
together — if unequally — formed the underlying principle of 
the post-WW2 wage bargain, codified in collective bargaining 
agreements. But just as collective bargaining and the "social 
wage" in that period served the needs of accumulation by pro- 
viding capital with a predictable, regulated supply of workers 
and wage costs, so today economic growth — the "bottom 
line" of all social policy — demands that the costs of working 
class reproduction be pushed ever lower. This makes appeals 
to the common interests of workers and capitalists an exercise 
in nostalgia at best. 

Maybe, as the French example shows, less work time is not 
as important as other aspects of flexibilization such as income 
insecurity. Maybe there are other demands with wider reso- 
nance, such as — given the truly torturous distances workers are 
forced into — paid commute time. No question, less work time 
would be an improvement — but not at the cost of decreased 
wages. It must not be forgotten that decreasing work time can 
never be an end in itself At best, it's a defensive — if necessary — 
fight that repairs labor so that it might be able to go to work the 
next day. A fight solely to enable the working class to continue 
to function as a working class is ultimately not in the interests 
of the working class — their interest can only be the end of 
exploitation itself, not its shortening. 



Forces of Labor: 
Workers Movement and 
Globalization since 1870 



by Beverly Silver 

Cambridge University Press, ' 

reviewed by Chris Carlsson 


ten, sociological approach to global labor unrest 
since 1870. Beverly Silver bases her study on data 
developed by the World Labor Group, of which she 
is a member. They have gone through back issues of 
the NY Times and London Times to find mentions of 
"labor unrest" since 1870, arguing that the two 
papers are the voices of their respective imperial cen- 
ters and though they certainly do not record all 
instances of labor unrest, by charting the ebb and 
flow of such mentions, one derives a picture of 
global historical periods that appears remarkably 
accurate. Silver constructs a fascinating analysis of 
the complicated, nuanced, layered dynamics of labor 
unrest and capitalist perpetuation. 

"The insight that labor and labor movements are continually 
made and remade provides an important antidote to the 
common tendency to be overly rigid in specifying who the 
working class is (be it the nineteenth-century craftworkers 
or the twentieth-century mass production workers). Thus, 
rather than seeing an "historically superseded" movement 
or a "residual endangered species", our eyes are open to the 
early signs of new working class formation as well as "back- 



lash" resistance from those working classes being "unmade." 
A key task becomes the identification of emerging 
responses from below to both the creative and destructive 
sides of capitalist development." 

She makes good use of a double paradigm understanding 
of labor insurgencies — Karl Polanyi-types are ones character- 
ized by "the backlash resistances to the spread of a global self- 
regulating market," where workers or others are resisting the 
uprooting of traditional ways of doing things, or the destruc- 
tion of their livelihoods, or the loss of their jobs. Karl Marx- 
types are those where "newly-emerging working classes" are 
fighting as they are fully subjected to market discipline and 
their collective power is strengthened as "an unintended out- 
come of the development of historical capitalism." Silver sees 
world capitalism as swinging back and forth between a crisis 
of profitability and a crisis of legitimacy. 

Against this overarching set of contradictory dynamics, 
she also smartly identifies "a continual struggle not only over 
defining the content of working-class "rights" but also over 
the types and numbers of access to those rights. How — and 
how quickly — a new crisis of legitimacy/profitability is 
reached is determined in large part by "spatial strategies" — 
efforts to draw "boundaries" delineating who will be "cut in" 
and who will be "left out." This boundary drawing process is 
a key to understanding capitalist counterattacks against 
strengthening workers, but importantly it is also a key to 
understanding the way workers create identities (based on 
nation, race, gender, etc.) that distance them from self- identi- 
fication as workers. 

Forces of Labor also breaks down different ways capital 
alters the terrain of contestation — product fix, technological 
fix, spatial/geographic fix, financial fix. A detailed discussion 
of the leading industry of the 19th century, textiles, is juxta- 
posed to a similar treatment of the 20th century's lead indus- 
try, automobiles. Ultimately Silver attacks the premise of a 
"race to the bottom," arguing that class struggles have been 
displaced by the aforementioned fixes, never eliminated and 
never put to rest. She applies her theory to the present and 
future, trying to guess which industry might play a "leading' 
role in the 21st century, and while unsure, she points to 
Education (producing workers), and transportation (moving 
everything around) as likely candidates. She's also unabashed 
in predicting that the next wave of Marx-style labor unrest 
will appear in China. 

She departs from the somewhat self-referential arena of 
labor unrest in the last two sentences of the book, which took 
me by surprise. 

"While the overlap between the racial and wealth divides on 
a world-scale has been consolidated, environmental degra- 
dation has proceeded at a pace and scale unprecedented in 
human history. Thus the ultimate challenge faced by the 
workers of the world in the early twenty-first century is the 
struggle, not just against one's own exploitation and exclu- 

sion, but for an international regime that truly subordinates 
profits to the livelihood of all. 

All in all a smart book with a lot to think about. 

The Trouble With Music 

by Mat Callalian 

Oakland, Calif.: 
AK Press, 2004 


ISBN 1-904859-14-3 

reviewed by Chris Carlsson 

needed book. Drowning in the white noise of 
modern hfe, "the trouble with music" is the trouble 
with life in general. Callahan's passionate prose dis- 
sects with surgical precision the dynamics by which 
our common wealth, in this case our innate ability 
to share joy and community through making 
music, is turned into a product to be purchased, 
diminishing our basic humanity in the process. 

"Music originates in the human body. I sing, clap my hands, 
stamp my feet. This is literally universal in an even more 
fundamental way than speech... Music making is rooted in 
these simple acts that bring delight to the one doing them, 
which is then increased when one is joined by others. . . This 
kind of relationship to music could abolish the sonic 
adornment; simply wipe it out with the lived experience of 
people making music themselves... It is precisely because 
music can play a vital role in freeing people and challenging 
the forces of oppression that confiision is being sewn and 
the false is being substituted for the genuine article... the 
trouble with music is that it is out of control. It provides a 
human connection to the cosmos that defies domination of 
any kind. It militates against the very forces that would turn 
everything from the water we drink and the air we breathe 
into products for consumption and profit." 

His years in all sides of the "business" of music qualifies 
him like few others to reveal the inner workings of both the 
creative passion that produces good music, how we might 
come to a new understanding of what "good music" actually 
is, and how banal commodification has flooded our world 
with "anti-music." For musicians and listeners, rockers and 
rappers, clerks and toe-tappers. The Trouble With Music will 
widen your view, deepen your pleasure and reinforce your 
justified rage. PW 





Chris Carlsson 

"After a while, the festival's emphasis on hedonism and overt displays of sexuality can seem like a hipster straitjacket and the over- 
tones of New Age spirituality a gloss for a new type of vapid and self-congratulatory consumerism. ... The essential point of Burning 
Man is not what it is now but what it suggests for the future, which is not just a new cultural form but the possibility of a new way 

of being, a kind of radical openness toward experience that 
maintains responsibility for community. Radical openness 
means no closure, perpetual process and transformation, 
and embracing paradox, contradiction, and uncomfortable 
states. Every instant becomes synchronistic, every contact a 
contact high." 

— Daniel Pinchbeck' 

to my left as a pickup truck overtakes me. A 
blonde woman wearing devil's horns is flashing me 
an electrifying smile, gesturing and mouthing: Are 
you going to Burning Man? I smile back, nod, and 
give her the thumb's up. She pumps both arms tri- 

umphantly, and as they pull away, I'm left euphoric 

by the mysteriously powerful connection that 

passed from one metal box to another. 
Hours later, having cleared the mighty Sierra Nevada not 
far removed from where starving Chinese coolies chiseled out 
the first transcontinental railroad tracks through hoveling 
blizzards, I passed the neon blandness of Reno's unmajestic 
skyline, gassed up, and proceeded into the desolation of the 
Great Basin. Leaving the interstate behind, I entered the world 
of rural Nevada, Indian tacos and trailers scattered among 
riparian oases, separated by countless miles of arid but spec- 
tacular landscape. The road is crowded with trailers, buses, 
mid-sized sedans, usually carrying bicycles on the back, 
clearly all heading north to the playa. One dirt road leaves to 

Everything is oversized at Burning Man. Here, far from the urbanized Black Rock City lies a chandelier, at this point, still under 
construction. Next page, two views of a giant Solar Trike. 




the right, and under some rare shade a couple is busy spray 
painting bicycles light blue against the tawny, dusty ground. 

The mountain range that marks the end of the state high- 
way at the towns of Empire and Gerlach looms ahead. Dust 
clouds appear to the east, kicked up by arrivals preceding me. 
No sooner do I see them than my throat cracks, the taste of 
dust on my tongue. Twenty minutes later I'm crawling in 
bumper to bumper traffic completely immersed in gusting 
dust-filled winds, awaiting an inspection that rivals airport 
security as "Rangers" try to ferret out scofflaws and stow- 
aways. License plates hail from New York, Illinois, Oregon, 
British Columbia, Minnesota, all points between. Newly legal- 
ized Black Rock City radio is pumping tunes into the car, 
interspersed with occasional warnings that impossibly well- 
hidden stowaways will not elude the Rangers. 

Signs line the incoming roadway. "Barter is just another 
word for commerce." "Don't Trade it, Pay it Forward." And 
dozens of others. After a brief search for the camp location, I 
park. The dust thickened on the car as I spent the next five 
days exclusively bicycling around Black Rock City. 

Tuesday night: like a moth drawn to the light in the inky 
darkness of the desert, I pedal forward. Some kind of mad sci- 
entist has a keyboard hanging over his neck, attached to truck 
horns and bellows. As his fingers tickle the keys, flames shoot 
from tubes, pops and groans emerging from invisible holes 
and crevices. Three dozen cyclists surround the scene, smiling 
and pointing while background drum and bass machine add 
to the sound. 

I take a ride in the 37-foot-high "Olivator," a vertical chair 
ascent for a calm view of the lasers and neon lights chasing each 
other across the nighttime playa. A dozen pyrocycles ride by, 
each towing a trailer with an oil derrick on it, spouting flame at 
the top. Later I am nearly run over by a motorized float fuU of 
people peering out of a TV screen, labeled "Sony Tripatron". . . 
Two bikes tow a three-piece percussion ensemble, bass and trap 
drum set. . . At the camp called Bollywood an unbelievable rock 
'n roll film from 1965 screens, Gumnaam or something like 
that... a blues band rocks the house at Hair of the Dog bar, a 
long-time installation at Black Rock City. 

Another day, a dusty sun-soaked morning, early risers 
scurry about while others prepare to crash from the night's 
endless party. Cycling about, I encounter on the playa a copy 
of Bill Gates' The Road Ahead, spread open to a page on fric- 
tionless capitalism, awaiting the arrival of art cars to run over 
it. Returning to the city streets, I'm accosted by a guy with a 
bullhorn next to a late model SUV. On it a camping chair says 
"soccer mom." He's yelling, "If you love Burning Man, come 
and pee on this Soccer Mom's SUV!" 

One midweek evening we ride through gusting waves of 
dust to the "Man" to catch Reverend Billy and his Church of 
Stop-Shopping Revue; a big gospel chorus in gold lame gowns 
swayed behind his syncopated sermonizing... it was funny 
and much more overtly political than the usual Burning Man 

fare. I particularly love their finale as they sing "We Ain't 
Sponsored, we ain't sponsored, we ain't sponsored..." 

One-Hour Scrutinizing 

I went to Burning Man in 2003 as a self-designated 
"Official Scrutinizer," with a brief questionnaire offering 
passersby heavy or light scrutiny. "Heavy scrutiny" meant a 
45-minute audio interview, "light scrutiny" quickly scribbled 
answers to a dozen multiple choice questions. My "perform- 
ance" led to twenty-four quality interviews and countless fan- 
tastic conversations. I wanted to explore my assumptions 
about class consciousness among participants, to find out 
who they were, what they did the rest of the year, how they 
contextualized the experience, etc. 

Those I encountered filled a range of occupations: health 
educator/social worker, transportation planner, teacher, math 
professor (retired), testing and counselor of street kids, home- 
less youth study coordinator, welder/metal fabricator, soft- 
ware tester, human resources manager, environmental 
biochemist, teacher, freelance high tech research/marketing, 
handyman/auto mechanic, community development and 
technology consultant, computer repairman and apartment 
manager, teacher/ex-dot. com content provider, political 
organizer, immigration legal aide, veterinary assistant, house 



painter, builder, president marketing services/open source 
software company, business/technology consultant. 

They covered a ftiU age range, too: 23-30: seven; 32-40: 
seven; 41-50: five; 51-63: five. Of the thirteen women and 
eleven men I spoke with, the vast majority believed there is a 
ruling class (20), while their own class identification was con- 
fiised at best: 7 middle class; 5 working class; 7 both; 3 neither; 
2 didn't know. Not surprisingly, nearly all of the respondents 
were white (though a smattering of people of color do 
attend). And due to my approach, the group was a self-select- 
ing subset of the larger population, people drawn to the 
notion of "scrutiny," analysis, thinking, reflection. It is diffi- 
cult to generalize about 29,000 people, and perhaps not worth 
trying. Also, many have abandoned Burning Man over the 
years for a variety of reasons. Thus, this inquiry is not an 
attempt to confront all the criticisms or objections to Burning 
Man that are held. 

In fact, I am not trying to defend the institution at all — for 
an institution is what it has become! My own attempt to inter- 
act with the organizers of Burning Man led to a puzzling and 
ultimately absurd exchange with a self-designated media com- 
mittee representative going by the moniker 'Brother John'. I 
thought to communicate my intentions to this committee as a 
courtesy. Much to my surprise my first email led to a response 
"rejecting" my "request," misunderstanding my own past atten- 

dance, and admonishing me to come to the festival to just expe- 
rience it. According to Brother John, after I'd soaked it up for a 
year I could make a proposal the committee might "approve." I 
was shocked and wrote back my rejection of their authority. 
Brother John then indicated that he realized it was a relation- 
ship based on mutual agreement and they could not regulate 
me if I didn't accept it, but that the Burning Man Media 
Committee would expect me to submit to them anything I 
wrote PRIOR to publication! I stopped myself from responding 
that this policy violated all journalistic autonomy and was 
more akin to the Pentagon's approach to war coverage than the 
ostensible free community of Burning Man. I held my tongue 
and chose to ignore them from that time on. 

Other complaints about the allocation of money to 
artists, the occasionally heavy-handed exercise of authority by 
drunken Black Rock City rangers, the airport security shake- 
down at the gates to catch stowaways, the ever-rising price of 
entry, etc., have been noted elsewhere. While I am aware of the 
many ways to criticize the failures of Burning Man, my own 
goal in attending, interviewing and writing was different, as 
you'll see. 

Commerce-free Gift Economy 

"If Burning Man is a cult, it is above all a cult of transfor- 
mation." — Daniel Pinchbeck' 

"... The campsite counters the isolation in which most of the 

people we met live year-round. . ." — Margaret CeruUo and 

Phyllis Ewen' 

The people who come to Burning Man would never 
say — or even think — so, but clearly the vast majority are part 
of the sprawling American working class. When they're not at 
BM they have to go to work, mostly living from paycheck to 
paycheck and on credit. Once a year, for fun, they go on an 
expedition to the desert along with 29,000 others. And what 
do they do? They "set up" on the blank dusty slate of the 
white, flat playa. Then they live in a densely populated city 
and have a totally urban experience. But it's a familiar and 
strangely different city life. The lack of infrastructure beyond 
porta-potties and the semi-circular layout of Black Rock City 
leaves room for the harsh nature of the desert to impose itself. 
Commerce is formally excluded (with the notable exceptions 
of ice and the Center Camp cafe). 

I asked my scrutinees how they felt about the commitment 
to a cash-free "gift economy." Most people were genuinely 
enthusiastic. Several emphasized that it was a major reason for 
their coming. ". . .1 am so attracted to Burning Man because for 
close to a week I can exist without ever having to spend money, 
without ever having to worry about people asking for money — 
it's just eliminated." For a school teacher it is a "mental vaca- 
tion, a sense of relief," while a female metal worker thought it 
"kind of hypocritical," mostly because of the espresso sales at 
Center Camp. One computer geek claimed "I would love to live 



in the gift economy 365 days a year!" Some of the lower wage 
participants, a handyman and a veterinary assistant, were 
adamant: "That's why I come here," and "I think life should be 
like this, it's the only way to live." A Berkeley apartment man- 
ager, who also fixes computers, described it as "a natural human 
impulse that is given free reign and encouraged here. It's just a 
normal thing that people want to do." 

The commerce-free environment is "imperative. I would- 
n't come here otherwise," said a street counselor, while a retired 
human resources staffer emphasized "it's the thing that inspired 
me and drew me to Burning Man. . . Doing something because 
you love to do it rather than because you have to do it is always 
refreshing and wonderful..." For one person the commerce- 
free environment was a means to break down class assump- 
tions based on consumption patterns. "Here nobody cares how 
much money I make because I have all these other things to 
offer. Also the people who have a lot of money are able to see 
people who maybe have almost nothing — they scrimp and they 
save every single penny they have to come here — [while] it's 
just like another vacation for the wealthy." 

Not everyone "buys" 

the story Burning Man 
tells itself: "I don't think it 
really is a commerce- free 
environment... it doesn't 
mean much to me to have 

this contrived, one-week 

gift economy. I see efforts 

to create alternatives, or to transform the world we live in, [get] 

co-opted and integrated by the dominant society. There is a gift 

economy that already exists, the living culture in people's daily 

lives, and Burning Man is a co-optation of it, selling it back to 

people. It's a product, like ethical consumerism in some 


Thousands of "alternative" people go to the northern 
Nevada desert and build a miniature Las Vegas. Neon light 
and techno-music and amenities of urban night life are 
trucked along. A lot of people bring everything they want: the 
RV, the pavilion, the sinks, the astroturf, the refrigerators and 
everything else. They lack for nothing and could almost be in 
the suburbs. Ironically, people come here to escape, but re- 
create a version of the world they left behind, down to the 
carpet on the floor and the wetbar in the corner. 

"Family camping embodies many anticapitalist yearnings 
and a dream of a different life... It is a dream in which there 
are no great inequalities and in which the market does not 
determine human relationships. Yet paradoxically, these 
preindustrial fantasies tie people more tightly into the mar- 
ket. Mass production and mass marketing have made fam- 
ily camping possible for working-class people. Families go 
further into debt in order to make the investment in camp- 
ing equipment. The experience of nature is mediated by 
commodities." — Margaret Cerullo and Phyllis Ewen' 

Burning Man is a countercultural expression of the 
working class yearnings described in the 1982 article above 
(read it again, replacing "family camping" with "Burning 
Man"). The fabled nudity, wild art, rave music, drugs and sex 
are all manifestations of the specific subcultures that attend, 
but underneath the spectacular behaviors are regular people. 
Once away from the stifling conformity of "normal life" 
(especially work life), people are free to experiment with cos- 
tume, identity, and group behaviors in ways that are difficult 
at home. For most attendees. Burning Man is a different 
world subjectively. 

One way to see Burning Man is as a Do-It-Yourself 
World's Fair. The much-touted freeing of imagination it 
embodies leads to entertaining and inspiring art projects 
from sculpture and installation to fire-breathing dragons and 
galleons with crowded bars inside. Moreover, the preponder- 
ant ethic of do-it-yourself art-making begins to permeate 
most interactions, deepening human connections in ways 
that are usually absent in daily lives. Art is alienated from 
everyday life by being commodified and separated, but 

Burning Man is a nascent attempt of the working class, not as 

a class per se, but as people who refuse to be mere workers, 

to recompose itself, and in so doing, to transcend class and 

the capitalist organization of life that stunt our humanity. 

Burning Man places art at the center of human activity. BM 
slips an exciting notion into the back of its participants' 
minds: our greatest collective art project is living together. 
Every activity can be engaged artistically. One can find in any- 
thing a sense of aesthetic pleasure, communicative depth, and 
resonance with something true and passionate. The art of liv- 
ing becomes something tangible and reinforced by recurrent 
surprises of gift-giving and cooperation. 

Burning Man is an enormous experiment in relearning 
to speak to each other directly, and reopening and using pub- 
lic spaces. It's a hands-on, throats-on, tongues-on experience. 
You learn to meet strangers with an open heart. Participants 
practice trust in a practical context removed from "normal 
life." Skill sharing, experimentation and appropriation of the 
techno-sphere for pleasure, edification and self-expression 
point to a deeper practical radicalization than what is usually 
attributed to Burning Man. 

Like anything worth doing, Burning Man is fraught with 
contradictions. But within them are impulses and behaviors 
that connect to a wider social movement that exceeds the self- 
conceptions of its participants. Burning Man is a nascent 
attempt of the working class, not as a class per se, but as peo- 
ple who refuse to be mere workers, to recompose itself, and in 
so doing, to transcend class and the capitalist organization of 
life that stunt our humanity. 




Pyrocycles was a mobile pyrotechnic installation designed for, but not limited to, Burning Man 2003. The theme of the 2003 fes- 
tival was Beyond Belief which invited the event-goers to look at the mysteries of faith and spirituality and that which is sacred. 
The dominant interpretations of this ranged from a return to a tribalistic neo-paganism to empty reflections on a lost spirituality 
to outright parodies of Christianity. Ours, however, differed in that it brought the reality of President Bush's political maneuver- 
ings in Iraq to the Black Rock Desert. The message is simply that the actual reality of the war in Iraq and the forces behind it 
must be not be forgotten in a festival where the participants are meant to look beyond our consciousness. 

Pyrocycles built upon the propane-music technology used by the Octopus Car. Instead of a single vehicle with a centralized con- 
troller for the sequencing of the flames, it was a decentralized and kinetic system. There were eight units, each consisting of a 
bicyclist towing a trailer. Atop each trailer was an aluminum tower, over ten feet high, resembling an oil derrick witha constant 
small burning flame. Larger bursts of fire were controlled by the cyclist through an electronics controller on the handlebars. With 
the ability to modulate the frequency and the size of the propane bursts while riding the trailers around, the cyclists could 
orchestrate a unique visual-musical performance. Because we were on bicycles, we were a lot more approachable and friendly 
than most fire-based installations, which usually try to scare people with large fireballs. 

The depiction of oil rigs in a desert environment was intended to evoke the landscape of oil-rich countries in the Middle East. By 
towing rigs behind human-powered vehicles, we were emphasizing the backwards nature of our society's dependence on fossil 
fuels, and the subordination of our energy and foreign policy to that dependence. 

Reaction to the Pyrocycles project was mixed. Despite the explicitly political underpinnings of Burning Man, for many participants it 
is a determinedly apolitical space. For those seeking an escape from the politics of Iraq and the myriad of other unpleasantries they 
face, flaming oil rigs were a not-so-subtle reminder of the world they wanted to leave behind. Many other viewers, however, were 
struck by the appropriateness of the icons and their receptions ranged from amusement to deep appreciation of the piece. 

On a purely aesthetic basis, the rhythmic effect of the flame and the clean lines of the metalwork were well received, and the 
bikes often drew a crowd that followed the riders around. Because of the control afforded to the riders, in many cases we were 
able to provide a pyromusical accompaniment to bands or DJs, which added an extra visual layer to their performances. 

On a more detailed level, each of the trailers was adorned with the Pyrocycles logo as well as an individual icon representing a 
modern-day apocalypse. Like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, each bicyclist spread its form of destruction from a different 
direction on the compass. The apocalypses are War, Media, Religion, Overpopulation, Environmental Pollution, Globalization, 
Corporatization and Oil. 

Shown at: Burning Man, August-September, 2003 / Scott Kildall, 
Project designers: Brett Bowman, Scott Kildall, Sasha Magee, Mark Woloschuk 



David Best makes amazing temples year after year at Burning 
Man. This is 2003's Temple of Hope, burned on the last day of 
Burning Man, the day after the "Man" itself is immolated. 

Qass Dismissed? 

"These are people without any well-integrated social place. 
Their lives are characterized by job instability, geographic 
mobility, divorce and remarriage, and distance from rela- 
tives... Ifgetting away from it all" represented an escape, it 
was an imperfect one... If it was an industrial nightmare 
they sought to escape, it was the products of industrial civ- 
ilization that offered themselves to aid and abet their 
escape. If it was an escape from work and the clock they 
envisioned, they found the very meaning and experience of 
leisure defined and circumscribed by the images and 
rhythms and moral valuations of work." — Margaret 
Cerullo and Phyllis Ewen' 

America is in denial about class. This society insists that 
there's no such thing (and of course there's no history either, 
only nostalgia, the Civil War and WWII). Ultimately, class is 
about power. Some people make decisions about the shape of 
our lives and then there's the rest of us. We have to work to sur- 
vive. If you have to work, you're in the working class. You might 
be making $65K/yr. but you aren't in control of what you do, 
how it's shaped, what technologies are used, nothing. You may 
live paycheck to paycheck, but because you are "well paid," and 
have been told you are "professional," you don't identify as a 
worker. Big deal, they've always had well-paid workers. 

U.S. politics tends to gravitate around claims of what's 
good or bad for the "middle class," a group that ostensibly 
includes everyone but the bag ladies and street homeless on 
one side and the Leer-jetsetting super-rich on the other. The 
most confusing piece of this puzzle in the past decades has 
been the gradual disappearance of the working class, replaced 

in some politicians' speeches by rclcrcnccs to "working tanii- 
lies," or in the rhetoric of leftist organizers as "working peo- 
ple," but defrocked of its status as a class. Many people in blue 
and white-collar jobs think of themselves as middle class, a 
self-affirming status maintained by shopping properly. 

The term "class" has lost a great deal of meaning in the 
United States. Does this collapse of meaning correspond to a 
disappearance of referents? Are we living in a classless society? 
Of course not. But the conceptual tools required to under- 
stand and make sense of this society have been radically 
degraded. The key missing arrow in our empty quiver is the 
one that pierces class society, that explains the systemic 
dynamics that produce a small group of extremely wealthy at 
one pole, and an ever greater number of impoverished at the 
other. Between the extremes of untold wealth and absolute 
immiseration'' most of us live quiet lives, coping as best we can 
with the cards we're dealt. 

In the U.S., where even the poorest 10% are wealthier 
than 2/3 of the world's population," decades of cold war, con- 
sumerist propaganda, and a balkanized humanities curricu- 
lum have atomized the population into market niches and an 
endless series of personal crises. The notion that the vast 
majority of us, who have nothing to sell but our labor and are 
consequently utterly dependent on wages and salaries for our 
survival, are part of a broad class of people sharing a funda- 





Sports Beat - Playa Extreme! 

mental relationship to 
power and wealth in 
this society, is an idea 
that has been over- 
whelmed and dis- 

When I asked my 
interviewees if they 
identify with the label 
"middle class," "working 
class," neither or both, I 
got wonderfully com- 
plex responses. A 63- 
year-old retired math 
professor explained, 
"I'm what they used to 
call declasse. My parents 
were working class. I 
raised myself up to the 
middle class, and now 
. . . University profes- 
sors — people with an upper middle class income and a sub- 
lower class mentality!" A 34-year-old social worker from 
Australia called himself "polyglot: I grew up in a string of min- 
ing towns and worked as a miner, but my parents were univer- 
sity educated and so was I in a country where that's rarer than 
here." The female metal worker put it bluntly: "I would say 
working class, definitely, I don't make enough money to be 
middle class." A mid-20s teacher, on his way from the east to the 
northwest, explained, "I work. I don't really think about [class] 
for me. I think about it for my parents. My mom was a nurse, 
my dad was a firefighter. We were middle America, right down 
the middle." A clown, who survives in San Francisco as a vet- 
erinary assistant, reinforced the resistance I encountered to 
questions about class. "I try not to think about it much. Like 
what class I belong to... probably working poor... It's only an 
issue when someone else makes it an issue." An NGO staffer in 
Berkeley in her late- 30s characterized her own ambivalence and 
downward mobility thusly: "Absolutely I'm a middle class per- 
son. My parents were both lawyers. I was born into the middle 
class in Berkeley... But I am definitely the American working 
class. I live paycheck to paycheck. I don't own my home. I'm a 
wage slave..." 

A 35-year-old Canadian making his first trip to Burning 
Man had one of the more unusual responses: "Neither. 
Because I cycle [between] jobs that pay ridiculously well [and 
those that don't]. For the least amount of work I've gotten 
paid the highest wage and for the hardest work I've gotten shit 
wages. I'm not middle class because I've been upper class and 
I've been lower class. I was the plant manager, so I had about 
150 employees underneath me. Right now I'm working as an 
industrial cleaner at a ready-to-eat plant that makes sausages. 
I hose everything down with high pressure, high-temperature 

Ifi/otai/iJiicnt Sir 

Burning Man 2003 media. 

water, apply some chemicals that eat away at protein and then 
rinse it off and sanitize it. Then government inspectors 
inspect it. When people say 'what do you do?' I still say I'm a 
biochemist... [As a plant manager] I sat down and thought 
'why am I always tired?' It's because I'm not doing what I want 
to do. Which led me to other questions: 'Well, what is it I DO 
want to do?' I don't know. 'Well, how do I find out what to 
do?' They don't teach ethics in school. They don't teach 
rational thinking processes in school. They don't teach you 
how to survive on your own. They teach you how to incorpo- 
rate into the system, how to be a dependent." 

After finding out how people labeled themselves I asked 
what the word 'class' means to them, and how people fall into 
one or another class. 

"I tend to think that there's only two classes: there's the 
people that have the levers of power and then there's the rest 
of us... I come here for the chaos and spontaneity to purpose- 
fully forget that manner of thinking." 

"Class means primarily the degree of economic self- 
determination that you're able to exercise." 

"I think if you know someone's class, you won't know any- 
thing about them... I think [class is] what gets us into trouble." 

"Class to me is a relationship, like capital is a relation- 
ship... it's usefulness as an analytic category has been some- 
what deflated. At the same time that I think it is still a very real 

"Smash it. It's ridiculous, it's horrible, it puts value on 
very few things and it's all run by the almighty dollar." 

"Class is a strata, it's a way of distinguishing groups so 
you know what boundaries to set for yourself. . . I think that 
class distinction is more important as you go further along 
and get higher up because you stand to lose more." 



"One definition is you are born into or enter as a result of 
your actions. Another is a sense of upbringing and education. 
Or your current circumstances. For example, my father is a 
taxi driver and I live in a neighbourhood surrounded by fac- 
tories, sweat-shops and prostitution. My last form of semi- 
regular income was as a labourer on construction sites, and I 
am regularly un/under-employed. Seemingly working class. 
However, I also went to a pretty prestigious high school, have 
a bachelors degree in fine arts and currently work as a com- 
munity service provider, pretty middle class." 

"It means access to resources... it's also a way of recogniz- 
ing excellence... There's some people that I really admire and 
look up to and I consider them to be 'higher class' in a way." 

"Class means being able to walk out of your wind-blown, 
sand-blown domicile without a shower in five days, looking 
fabulous! That is class... My idea of class has nothing to do 
with money. It has to do with education. . . blue collar is class. 
These people know their shit. But those who know, and those 
who can teach and those who can show and those who just are 
by example, that's class, heavy class." 

"All class distinctions are subjective, there are no objec- 
tive class classifications." 

"I don't understand class distinctions personally. I don't 
need money to do a lot of things, so I feel wealthy." 

"Well birth is a lot of it... I don't get the class thing, by the 
way. I think part of it is about self-imposed limitations, and 
that's really tragic." 

"Largely birth. Birth, then education." 

The prevailing amnesia and confusion results from a 
complex set of overlapping dynamics. "Globalization" is the 
all-purpose buzzword describing the redesign of work, the 
relocation of production within and without national bor- 
ders, the rolling back of unions and the welfare state, and the 
rapid and extreme concentration of wealth and power. 
Another way of stating it is that since the ebbing of profits in 
the mid-1970s, capital has carried out a worldwide counterat- 

tack. The "just-in-time" pace of work (some call it "Toyota- 
ism"'), the redesign and redevelopment of cities, the comput- 
erization of production, the huge increase of incarceration, 
the unprecedented wave of human migration within and 
across borders, all have contributed to a growing isolation for 
individuals. Where once there were stable communities, 
neighborhoods, and familiar faces at workplaces, where one 
might work for decades, now people move from place to place 
and job to job, whipped by unrelenting insecurity and the 
threat of being left behind. 

The End of Community-Long Live Community! 

"Long working hours, the breakup of long-term personal 
associations, and, most important, the disappearance of 
women from neighborhoods during the day have acceler- 
ated the decline of civil society, the stuff of which the 
amenities of everyday life are made. In the 1980s and 1990s 
membership in voluntary organizations such as the Parent- 
Teachers' Association, veterans' groups, and social clubs 
declined but, perhaps more to the point, many of them lost 
activists, the people who kept the organizations together. 
Labor unions, whose membership erosion was as severe as 
it was disempowering, became more dependent on full- 
time employees to conduct organizing, political action, and 
other affairs as rank-and-file leaders disappeared into the 
recesses of the nonstop workplace. The cumulative effect of 
this transformation is the hollowing out of participation 
and democracy where it really counts, at the grass roots." 

— Stanley Aronowitz'' 

What we've lived through in the last 30 years is a radical 
decomposition of the working class. Of course two world 
wars wrought more destruction and unraveled societies more 
completely, but the reorganization of life and work since the 
late 1970s has broken down communities and ways of life that 
impeded profitability. Consequently, the world is now much 
more transient. Everywhere people are in motion in the great- 
est wave of human migration in history. Jobs have been 



exported, new people have arrived with different cuhures, 
languages, memories and expectations. In the few places that 
are relatively stable, the influx rapidly alters labor markets, 
urban density, housing, transportation, pollution, and social 
tension. Even in the U.S., the chances of living at the same 
address for more than five years is fairly small. Then there's 
the casualization of work, the rise of temporary employment, 
contract labor, and the breakdown of careers and permanent 
jobs. Nobody lasts at any given job longer than a few years 
anymore. And there is no future at a given job. Unless you are 
a nurse, doctor, or something like that, most people freelance. 
That fragmentary existence lacks a real sense of shared com- 
munity, neighborhood, street life, or work life. The old ways 
of being in community have broken down. 

This breakdown of communities and families is a result 
of the furious pace of life under contemporary capitalism. 
Conveniently for the needs of capital, it is precisely within 
those lost social networks that alternative knowledge and 
counter-narratives were kept alive and passed along. As the 
traditional communities of workplace and neighborhood 
have been ripped asunder by plant closings, urban redevelop- 
ment, and the new transience, the historical memories of 
communities that had organized and resisted unfettered 
exploitation in the past have nearly been lost too. Popular 
movements with memories of their own political power based 
on collective action, have diminished as the physical founda- 
tions have been kicked out from beneath them. 

But this process is as old as capitalism itself What we are 
living through is just the latest in a cycle that Italian theorists 
of the autonomist school have framed with the concept of 
"class composition."'" Since capital's counterattack began in 

Center Camp at the center of the Burning Man wheel shape. 

the mid-1970s, working class composition has been systemat- 
ically altered, or "decomposed". By the late 1960s movements 
across the planet had pushed for shortened working hours 
and increased pay, but crucially, had begun contesting the 
very definitions of life and work and the reasons why we live 
the way we do. The oil shock of 1973-74 was the first loud 
response of a world capitalist elite afraid of losing its power 
and determined to rein in an unruly working class by re- 
imposing austerity and fear of unemployment." Historic 
wage highs were reached in the early 1970s in the U.S. and 
elsewhere. Since that time, working hours have been radically 
intensified and in the 1990s absolutely lengthened, while 
wages in real dollars have remained constant or diminished. 
In spite of an economy four times larger than it was in 1980 
(as measured by the terribly inaccurate and misleading Gross 
Domestic Product, or GDP) in the early 21st century we are 
working more hours per year and working much harder, but 
life has not improved. Most people are just glad to have work 
and income in a world where "falling" is perceived as a real 
possibility, where one doesn't have to look beyond the next 
street corner to see how abject life can be if you don't stay in 
the good graces of ever-more demanding employers. 

Burning Man promises its participants a reclaimed, revi- 
talized, reborn sense of community. Upon arrival everyone is 
greeted with a hearty "welcome home" even if they've never 
been there before. I asked my scrutinees what the word 'com- 
munity' means: 

— "The opposite of feeling isolated and unsupported... a 
feeling of being able to lean on your neighbor." 

— "An investment looking for a payback." 

— "Where you can lean on and know your neighbors, 
you help each other out... You're easy to con- 
trol when you're just one person with no strong 
community backing." 

— "Something that has its real and its ideal 
sides. The ideal is a lot of sharing and thought- 
fulness and planning to make sure everyone's 
ok. And the real one is knowing that that's the 
best way to take it, but not always having the 
courage to do that. 

— "The common ground constantly has 
to be renegotiated or re-evaluated... commu- 
nity here is interesting because of its tempo- 
rariness... You can't ever step outside how our 
societal relations are influenced by capitalism 
but you can certainly try, and I think Burning 
Man is a possibility." 

— "An environment, doing things and 
being... It's a platform for playing with ideas 
about everyday life." 

— "All the parts dependent on each other, 
all working together, living and non-living." 

— ^ "Shared purpose, shared values. 



Another type is based on geography, and is based on 
default... The most profound meaning is a sense of identity." 

— "Involvement, equality and respect, safety, love." 

— "Oh God. Such an overused word in the Bay Area, such 
a code word. . . drop the community in any speech and it shows 
that you're a good person and that you value human interac- 
tion. It's become the 'motherhood and apple pie' of the left... 
Community ideally is a group of people together whether by 
choice or circumstance, who feel a shared interest, a shared des- 
tiny, a shared responsibility... it's so temporary and so tenuous 
[at Burning Man] and you can just leave if you want, which is 
not what real community is about. A real community, you can't 
just pick up and go, it would matter if you left." 

The normal impulse in life is to cooperate and to do 
things together. The market and the capitalist economy seeks 
to break that. You are tacitly pressured to hold back so you can 
then sell to somebody, instead of sharing your skills and 
energy. Burning Man is a chance to experience unmediated 
cooperation. The deeper truth of living is somehow briefly 
tasted here as an extreme experience, but it's actually quite 
normal. People seek community, to connect with each other 
in authentic ways, regardless of the contradictions inherent in 
the expensive Burning Man experience. BM provides a con- 
text to create trust, which leads people to envision other kinds 
of living and to share efforts to bring it about. 

Making Technology Ours 

One of the constituent elements of the emerging culture 
visible at Burning Man is a classically working class predisposi- 
tion for tinkering, playing, innovating and doing things that are 
useful. And doing it with a real sense of rugged individualist 
independence: "I can fix that. I don't need anybody to tell me 
how to do that, I can do it myself." In spite of the individualist 
ethic, it's always a collective process, handing down knowledge 
and techniques. Technology, gadgets, electronics — this is how a 
lot of Americans do art, albeit often unconsciously. At Burning 
Man people share machinery and electric light and urbaniza- 
tion in a heavily technological event. As one of the teachers I 
interviewed put it, "Everything here is technology, all these 
bikes, the flames, the domes, the pyramids, that's all technol- 
ogy." But people have very different ideas about technology, 
often independent of their own engagement with it. 

An avid bicyclist, who got involved repairing bikes at her 
first Burning Man described herself as a technophobe. "When 
I hear 'technology' and 'tinkerer', I don't relate that to fixing 
bikes for some reason." Our biochemist, who is as high-tech as 
a person can be, explained, "Back in the '50s they said all this 
technology was going to save time. Well it didn't. I've got less 
time than I would have even 20 years ago." 

A former software engineer hilariously characterized her- 
self this way: "I'm pretty low-tech here, although I have a tita- 
nium computer, a color printer, a laminating machine and two 
80 gig firewire drives and all the equipment. This is my low- 
tech year... I work, weld, and grind and I'm fabulously happy 
around tools. . . I don't know what I'm doing, it's great. I am not 
a trained mechanic. I am not a person who knows any of the 
crap that I'm doing. I love not having the idea behind me that 
says 'no you can't use this tool for that.' I don't know what you 
use this tool for, fijck it, this is what I'm doin' with it!" 

A social worker who does research on the street observed 
the same creative involvement: "One of the things I really like 
at BM is that you see this endless 'we're gonna take something 
and we're gonna do something different with it, because noth- 
ing's available that let's us do this thing'. It's one of the true 
joys and delights of being here." 

His colleague was repelled by the heavy dependence on 
fossil fuels at Burning Man: "...the whole idea of art cars that 
burn gasoline seems ridiculous. And these flamethrowers are 
all burning petroleum-based products. But on the other hand 
gasoline is also used in a lot of different, interesting, creative 
and beautiful ways... Obviously we couldn't be out here in 
this godforsaken place without technology." 

The ability to appropriate the technosphere, make it part 
of you, make it do what you want, is an essential aspect of self- 
liberation. Gaining confidence by doing little things can lead 
to challenging and reshaping bigger things. The crucial part is 
how the material experience shapes one's imagination. 
Burning Man reclaims technological know-how, withdraws it 

Burning Man 2003 •'schwag," i.e. gifts! 



from market relations and reapplies it to activities and proj- 
ects whose purpose is pleasure rather than profit. But more 
importantly, the same logic and practice of technological 
reappropriation potentially undergirds another life — a post- 
capitalist life. Radical change on a global scale depends on our 
cleverness and our skills — and our ability to use technologies 
in ways that enhance our humanity, our freedom, and are 
consistent with interdependence and ecological sanity. 

Liberated Work vs. Useless Toil 

"The historical emergence of a huge social surplus in indus- 
trially advanced capitalist societies, [permitted] a consider- 
able fraction of the population to live outside the 
wage-labor system, at least for a substantial period of their 
adult lives. Many are marginals, hippies, freelance artists 
and writers, and graduate students who never enter the 
professional or academic workforces except as temporary, 
part-time workers. Rather than seeking normal, full-time 
employment in bureaucratic, commercial, or industrial 
workplaces they prefer to take jobs as office temps or find 
niches that do not require them to keep their nose to the 
grindstone, to show up to the job at an appointed hour, or 
to work for fifty weeks out of the year. ..." 

— Stanley Aronowitz'- 

Burning Man grew out of a subculture of people who 
recognized that a life worth living takes place outside of wage- 
labor, in addition to or instead of paid work. Its growth 
demonstrates a hunger for social experiences outside of the 
"normal" economic constraints of earning, buying and sell- 
ing, as a way to deepen and extend human life. For many, it's 
also an opportunity to do good work, unmediated by the 
twisted goals of economic life. 

The female metal worker captured a typical approach to 
survival: "I go through phases, I work for a while, and then it'll 
get to the point where I can take some time off. . . My life just 
goes on an as-needed basis. When I can afford time then I take 
time, when I can't afford time then I make the money so I can 
afford time later." 

The ex-dotcommer would like to survive as a cartoonist, 
but expressed a dark realism, typical of many in her genera- 
tion: "I'm not sure if I can get money doing what really lights 
me up. So I would rather do something menial with my 
hands, or work in a cafe or something, to free up my creative 
energy to work on my own projects." 

The veterinary assistant/clown straddles the split life: 
"Money is something I need to survive, and work is some- 
thing I need to do to have money to survive, and I have a job 
that I don't hate. That's not what I am, that's part of what I 
am, but I'm a lot more complex than that." 

An NGO staffer who emailed his questionnaire from 
Vancouver emphasized his different subjective experience 
when "working" at Burning Man. "There's a considerably 

higher level of fun with these engagements — not only because 
of the type of work, but also because the knowledge of the end 
result, the work's temporality and the personal connections 
that I have with the work." 

The apartment manager who also fixes computers admit- 
ted, "The experience of Burning Man makes my ache greater 
in my life... I go home, and I'm in planned time and I'm run- 
ning on clocks, and I don't know how to stop that cycle... I 
understand what the people who make the rules are telling me 
I should do with this green paper, but I just don't know how 
to translate it into something that is fun and satisfying. By 
contrast, when you get ready for the Burn you work your tail- 
bone off And because you're creating something different and 
new and you're challenging yourself even though it's work, it 
has this bonus attached. You're doing something that's going 
to promote your survival, it's going to help other people, it's 
going to be something really unique." 

The handyman/auto mechanic clearly wants out of nor- 
mal economic life: "I personally hate working for money. If I 
could work and not have to take money, it would be great. I 
love what I do. If 1 could somehow pull it off and not have to 
accept money, I'd do it in a heartbeat." 

Burning Man has a powerful effect on the imagination. It 
is not "real" liberation, but a temporary faux "escape" from 
the economy (that costs you hundreds of dollars). 
Nonetheless, it's a real experiment, and a direct manifestation 
of yearning. People yearn to escape the limits of economic 
life, to be more than just "workers." There aren't many 
chances to experience a crowd of like-minded people, sharing 
a collective euphoria produced by artistic and technological 
self-activity. At Burning Man there is a taste of such a post- 
economic life, even if the sour aroma of the cash nexus is 
barely hidden beneath the playa. pw 

1. "Heat of the Moment: The Art and Culture of Burning Man," Artforum maga- 
zine, Nov. 2003 

2. ibid. 

3. "Having a Good Time": The American Family Goes Camping, Radical 
America, Spring 1982, Vol. 16 #1-2 

4. ibid. 

5. ibid. 

6. "The richest 1% of people in the world receive as much as the bottom 57%, or 
in other words less than 50 million of the richest people receive as much as 
the 2.7 billion poorest." from World Bank economist Branko Milanovic, 1999, 
cited in After the New Economy by Doug Henwood, New Press (New York: 
2003), p. 132. 

7. Ibid. 

8. This term is fleshed out thoroughly in Modern Times, Ancient Hours by Pietro 
Basso. Verso: London 2003 

9. How Class Works: Power and Social Movements, (Yale University Press: 2003). 

10. A thorough treatment of this tendency is presented in Storming Heaven: 
Class composition and struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism by Steve Wright, 
Pluto Press (London: 2002) 

1 1 . For a full analysis of the price of oil in combating working class militancy, 
first in the so-called First World, then turning the attack to the oil-producing 
workers themselves later, see Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-1992 by 
the Midnight Notes collective, Autonomedia (New York: 1992). 

12. How Class Works: Power and Social Movements, op.cit. p. 59. 




Ztangi Press 

THE IDEA OF THE OLD EUROPEAN COMMONS has surfaced recently as a reaction to predatory capitalism's 
quest to commodify everything. What previous generations understood as public goods, our water for 
instance, or the broadcast bandwidth, even the air, is today considered fair game for exploitation. Enron, 
we shouldn't forget, wanted to trade futures on the weather. 

The notion that the "market rules" has permeated our consciousness so that thinking critically — outside the box, or, better, out- 
side the package — has been displaced from public discourse. (Critical thought, it seems, has sought refuge in the realm of fic- 
tion, where it puts up a rearguard fight.) It should come then 

as no surprise that those who would like to forge an alliance 
against this plague of consumerist assumptions fall short of 
achieving their goals. Packaging the message of resistance may 
take only a slogan and a graphic, but creating the connections 
between reality and its effective opposition requires analysis, 
which presumes insight. And insight comes from challenging 
appearances to reveal the substance of the domination that 
forms the core of our existence. 

The call to "reclaim the commons" illustrates how "pack- 
aging" resistance to global capitalism falls short of expectations. 
Building a force to overcome universal commodification 
requires criticizing not its 
effects, the depletion of all 
natural resources from fish 
to forests, for instance, but 
exposing its central doc- 
trine — the imperative to 
seize all of reality to create 

What is inherent in 
Economically, constant 
growth. There is no true 
sustainable "free market" 
capitalism. Profits need to 
be invested to expand pro- 
duction to in turn secure 
more returns. If profits 
aren't high enough, costs 
are slashed, no matter the 
social consequences. All 
forms of "green capitalism" 
will remain a marginal 
phenomenon. If a poten- 
tial exists to make "real" 
money, the "ethical" capi- 
talists will just be bought 
off, bought out or, if they 
resist, bankrupted by 

mega-corporations. We are witnessing this with organic agri- 
culture. And who do you think will ride into town with the 
latest "alternative" energy device that they will sell us when 
they have no more oil to sell? 

In the area of politics, capital accumulation knows only 
one form: dictatorship. Is it any wonder that corruption stalks 
the corridors of power? For capital its "my way or the door- 
way" on all issues related to making a buck. No obstacles are 

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that capitalism and 
democracy are not compatible. They are in constant combat. 

Is it a surprise which one 
trumps? And which one is 
compromised, or worse? 
History records a repetitive 
tale — all efforts at local 
control of resources are 
vanquished by economic 

Facing this devastating 
reality courts political 
immobilization. How can 
we stop this machine? Rage 
is easy, sabotage appealing, 
but systematic opposition, 
methodical and effective — 
that's another thing. 

Let's step back for a 
minute and take the long 
view. Piecemeal efforts at 
reforming capitalism are 
like sandbagging against a 
flood: necessary precau- 1 
tions to be sure, but hardly \ 
meant as a solution. A \ 
more proactive strategy i 
entails systemic reforms 
that lead to an historic turn I 
like the village market's : 



transmutation into industrial 
capitalism, but this time in the 
direction of democratic control 
not further consolidation. A 
reformist strategy like this 
requires both a thorough, critical, 
understanding of the workings of 
capitalism and a vision of a future 
society incorporating that analy- 
sis. Reference to problematic his- 
toric occurrences, like the 
commons, is no substitute for 
informed analysis. And posses- 
sion of an analysis without the 
passion of vision won't sustain us 
for the long haul. 

Historically, in Europe the 
commons was not a major affair. 
The lands that the lords and abbots 
set aside for the use of their serfs 
amounted to not much more than 
a sop to encourage their continuing subservience. In some 
areas it played a bigger role than in others, but all over Europe, 
the peasants were in constant upheaval trying to get out from 
under the thumb of the landlords. As towns emerged and 
guilds of skilled craftspeople developed in the early Middle 
Ages, prospects of more autonomy enticed peasants to the 

It may be stretching the historic record to say the guilds 
offered another world of possibility for the peasants. What we 
can say is that the growing opposition of workers to the rise 
of industrial capitalism in the 19th Century looked back sev- 
eral centuries and saw it that way. 

Today the movement against global capitalism invokes a 
vision — "another world is possible" — where grassroots 
movements have wrested control of their situation from 
global capitalism. At the center of this control is a radical 
democratic strategy not confined to the deadend of electoral 
politics but extending to the sphere of the economy. 

In Argentina, international financial capital in the form 
of the International Monetary Fund, decided to pull the plug 
on the economy. The workers found themselves arriving in 
the morning at factories abandoned by the owners who 
absconded with all the cash and left the gates locked. 
Confronted with this situation, the workers didn't petition the 
regime, corrupted by years of accepting IMF demands, for 
compensation, they broke the locks and entered their facto- 
ries and began running them again, by themselves. That's tak- 
ing democracy literally. 

This development was so successful that all across 
Argentina communities came to the aid of the workers of re- 
opened factories. Over 200 of them have survived for more 
than two years with democratic management and are so suc- 

cessful that the former owners want them back. Fat chance of 
that happening. 

On the other hand 200 enterprises can't withstand an 
assault from global capital if one is launched. Argentina has 
one beachhead for a new economy. It needs international sup- 
port and replication. An international movement for grass- 
roots rebellion, for workers' self-management and local 
autonomy needs to spread quickly. The bosses in Argentina 
made a mess of things, but nothing like the grand disasters 
that await us due to the rampage for profits on the part of 
international capitalists — global warming, gmo-manipula- 
tion of all our foodstuffs, devastation of the world's forests, 
oceans and soil. 

The outlines of a culture of resistance are emerging. 
The Argentine workers have seized one aspect of this cul- 
ture in a dynamic way: for them social property trumps pri- 
vate property. 

The indigenous people of the Chiapas show how cooper- 
ation produces results where individualism leads to waste. 

The conspicuous consumption of our society illustrates 
how abundance is obvious, but for purposes of political con- 
trol, scarcity rules. 

And lastly, we all seek ways of subverting the dominant 
sub-ethic of sacrifice, through creative endeavors of all sorts: 
play and the "gift economy," are not foreign to us. 

The prison house that is the market society, with its con- 
straints demanding subservience to profit and hierarchy, is 
intent on locking us all down. We don't want no stinking gar- 
den in the exercise yard, we want the walls torn down! We 
don't want to breathe the air of restraint, but the fresh breezes 
of freedom. We don't want the sun filtered through bars, but 
shining bright on a new world to be built. By us. pw 





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